Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Benjamin D. Johnson

Second Advisor

Elizabeth McCahill

Third Advisor

Olivia Weisser


The colonial community of Cempoala in what is today Mexico produced a map of its territory in 1580. This delicately painted manuscript was but a small part of Spain’s epic Relaciones Geográficas project to chart and understand its imperial possessions. While the indigenous map makers of Cempoala received their instructions from the Spanish crown to create the map and its related written report, they drew upon a wealth of native techniques in the execution of their craft.

This thesis establishes an original framework to understand the Cempoala map based on recent scholarship in Nahua Studies and the history of mapping. It does so by comparing the colonial map to those produced in the classic style. Rather than asking how the map is an example of “cartography,” the thesis studies indigenous mapping and communication practices on their own terms.

The work thereby redefines the map as a uniquely indigenous artifact and explains its functions. While many Mesoamerican maps celebrate history and community identity, that of colonial Cempoala does so in a distinctive way. Specifically, it establishes a sense of space through the use of specialized indigenous symbols; it adapts Western visual conventions and writing to Nahua ideas about community; it surreptitiously conveys a sense of history; it tells a story of conquest and rulership; and it inspires its people to action. In these ways, the Cempoala map is a form of spatial representation all its own.


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