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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 Series

July 2019
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 A collection of sixty largely unpublished maps from the late sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and made in the southern region of Oaxaca anchors an analysis of the way ethnically diverse societies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

“This book contributes to the large and innovative transdisciplinary body of scholarship regarding the extraordinary collections of pictorial maps produced by indigenous artists at the behest of both native and Spanish authorities, centered on Oaxaca. This constitutes an original contribution to a growing field of indigenous intellectual history linked to the political and cultural purposes of the maps.”
Cynthia Radding, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, author of Landscapes of Power and Identity: Comparative Histories of the Sonoran Desert and the Forests of Amazonia from Colony to Republic

Trail of Footprints tells a compelling story that weaves together fascinating and seemingly disparate elements of colonial Mexican and Atlantic history. Alex Hidalgo’s original approach contributes creatively to ethnohistory, the social history of law, agrarian history, cartography, history of science and technology, and postmodern cultural geography.”
Yanna Yannakakis, Emory University, author of The Art of Being In-Between: Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca