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Trail of Footprints

Trail of Footprints
A History of Indigenous Maps from Viceregal Mexico

This study explores how postconquest Mexican indigenous communities used maps to defend prized lands, to create a visual and social history of life before the Spanish, and to record knowledge of pre-Columbian plants.

Series: Recovering Languages and Literacies of the Americas

July 2019
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184 pages | 8.25 x 10.25 | 89 color and 2 b&w illus. |

Trail of Footprints offers an intimate glimpse into the commission, circulation, and use of indigenous maps from colonial Mexico. A collection of sixty largely unpublished maps from the late sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and made in the southern region of Oaxaca anchors an analysis of the way ethnically diverse societies produced knowledge in colonial settings. Mapmaking, proposes Hidalgo, formed part of an epistemological shift tied to the negotiation of land and natural resources between the region’s Spanish, Indian, and mixed-race communities. The craft of making maps drew from social memory, indigenous and European conceptions of space and ritual, and Spanish legal practices designed to adjust spatial boundaries in the New World. Indigenous mapmaking brought together a distinct coalition of social actors—Indian leaders, native towns, notaries, surveyors, judges, artisans, merchants, muleteers, collectors, and painters—who participated in the critical observation of the region’s geographic features. Demand for maps reconfigured technologies associated with the making of colorants, adhesives, and paper that drew from Indian botany and experimentation, trans-Atlantic commerce, and Iberian notarial culture. The maps in this study reflect a regional perspective associated with Oaxaca’s decentralized organization, its strategic position amidst a network of important trade routes that linked central Mexico to Central America, and the ruggedness and diversity of its physical landscape.

  • Illustrations
  • Notes on Translation
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. Patrons
  • Chapter 2. Painters
  • Chapter 3. Materials
  • Chapter 4. Authentication
  • Epilogue. Afterlife
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Fort Worth, Texas

Hidalgo is an assistant professor of history at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. His work on mapping in colonial Mexico has been published in Ethnohistoryand the Journal of Latin American Geography.


“Hidalgo's meticulously researched, clearly written, and generously illustrated study is innovative and informative.”
H-Net Reviews, Latin America

“Tracing the legal, social, cultural, and political history of [Oaxacan maps created by Indigenous mapmakers], Hidalgo sheds new light on the purpose, production, and preservation of maps as well as the lives of Indigenous peoples and Spaniards alike involved in their production. The result is a vivid re-orientation of Oaxacan history that speaks to the historical power of collaboration, adaptation, and cartography...In tracing the long lives of these maps, Hidalgo demonstrates, among other important interventions, the potency of Indigenous skills, ideas, and ways of knowing in creating and charting Oaxacan history.”
New Books Network: Native American Studies

“Delightful…[A] beautifully illustrated book...Trail of Footprints will be of wide interest to scholars of Latin-American cultures and histories, and to scholars of cartography. Its analysis offers a richly evidenced discussion of a wide range of maps and their production and circulation. The book usefully probes the theoretical discussions around cartography and colonialism, but ultimately lets the rich evidence shine through. Its production is high quality from the striking cover design, the use of full- and half-page colour reproductions of maps, to the layout that ensures close correspondence between images and textual discussion.”
Bulletin of Spanish Studies

“[A] carefully considered analysis…What Hidalgo demonstrates is that indigenous mapping did not disappear with the advent of Spanish conquistadores. Rather, indigenous mapping evolved under the influence of Spanish mapping practices and according to the needs of Spanish officials and administrators...[an] important book.”
Imago Mundi

“Thoroughly researched and wonderfully illustrated...The wide scope of the author’s analysis, coupled with an innovative methodology, makes this book indispensable for students and scholars of art history as well as history and its various subfields, including ethno-, legal, environmental, cartographic, and transatlantic history. The argument of the author, perhaps most ardently articulated in the epilogue, builds on a growing body of scholarship that amplifies the contributions of indigenous artists, intellectuals, and notaries while calling attention to the silences, gaps, and biases of the archive.”
Hispanic American Historical Review

“[A] model of scholarship…[with] clear and engaging writing, a strength of the book as a whole...Trail of Footprints also counters pervasive notions that indigenous maps were marginal, distrusted, misunderstood, or even useless.”
Colonial Latin American Review

“[Trail of Footprints] offers a pleasing and informative overview of Indigenous mapping from viceregal Mexico and engages well with Indigenous uses of and perspectives on these documents during an intense period of intercultural encounter.”
Terrae Incognitae

“The author effectively demonstrates that maps in early colonial period of Mexico were not just pieces of paper; instead, they were powerful tools that connected an earlier tradition to a new rapidly changing environment. This aspect, I believe, is the appeal of the volume for many different audiences, specifically those with an interest in the archaeology and colonial history of Latin America.”
The Americas

Trail of Footprints offers a robust argument that maps were embedded in social relationships from their commission to their realization and their subsequent interpretation...Hidalgo’s book provides rich insights into the role of maps in the push-and-pull between patrons, painters, native town councils, and Spanish bureaucracy in New Spain – and of the afterlives of these maps in later institutional collections.”
Journal of Latin American Geography




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