About the Mapas Project

Evolution of the Project

Digital Humanities Context

The Mapas Project is one of the earliest, large-scale endeavors of the Wired Humanities Project (WHP), the first and only digital humanities center at the University of Oregon, founded in the 1990s. The Mapas Project was the brain child of Judith Musick, then WHP Director, and Stephanie Wood, a historian with thirty-years’ experience studying indigenous language manuscripts from New Spain. Our idea was to atomize manuscripts into their pictorial and textual elements for close, collaborative study and for subsequent search and retrieval on line, which would allow for comparisons across many manuscripts. Our wish was to create a prototype that could be useful in the study of any manuscript from any time period or region of the globe. We also shared in the objective of advancing an understanding of the larger Humanities questions, such as the ways native communities under foreign colonization survived and responded to the many impositions, how they viewed themselves and their histories, and how they wrote down and painted their own realities.

Feminist Origins

For several years we had the generous funding of the Center for the Study of Women in Society (CSWS) in large part because one of our most urgent motivations is to extract from these pictorial manuscripts information about women’s status and roles and the evolution of gender ideology in Mesoamerica, both prior to and as a result of contact with Europe. With Susan Schroeder and Robert Haskett, Stephanie Wood was a co-editor of the anthology Indian Women of Early Mexico (1997), a collection of what was then a relatively small body of scholarship on gender-based ethnohistorical research. Wood has been anxious to see that research grow, and believes that increased access to the details of newly processed primary sources may further the process.

One reason pictorial manuscripts have been targeted here is because elite- and male-authored textual manuscripts sometimes overlook women, as they focus on the men’s own concerns and activities. We theorize that painters setting the scene, however, might have been more likely to include the (undeniable) presence of women, and capture some of their actions, as they surveyed the landscape. Thus, Wood was anxious to join the Wired Humanities Project and try to bring other colleagues into the mix of describing pictorial elements, as well as transcribing and translating texts.

The Wired Humanities Project was part of a larger research initiative at CSWS called the Feminist Humanities Project (FHP), also founded by Musick. For many years FHP sponsored -- and Wood coordinated -- a Gender in History course utilizing digital resources that were drawn from cutting edge research. Through a program called Teaching and Tea, we also shared these resources with high school teachers who found textbooks frustratingly slow to incorporate recent research on women. Launching the Mapas Project, we hope, will inspire similar work among our colleagues who study women in other times and parts of the world, and help expand the number of resources available to increasing numbers of scholars and teachers.

Earliest Phases

In the first phase of the Mapas Project, we began digitizing manuscripts held in repositories (or by collectors) willing to give us permission to publish them on the web without a fee. We try to keep costs down and access free. We know that educators are hard pressed to find the funds to purchase or subscribe to these kinds of resources, and advancing education is a desired result. Also, our work on the manuscripts is also done on a not-for-profit basis. But, until we found external funding, we had a relatively simple website, without search and retrieval. The results of our first phase can be seen at http://whp.uoregon.edu/mapas/.

A notable collaborator in the earliest phase was Dr. Juan José Batalla of Madrid, Spain, who shared his detailed work on the Códice Magliabechiano. Working closely with Batalla was our undergraduate student intern, Cristina Cruz, who facilitate English translations. We were also thrilled when residents of key communities in Mexico came forward to help with the study of various manuscripts. One of these was Ricardo Nolasco of Tzictepec, modern state of Mexico, whose home town holds an unpublished Techialoyan manuscript. (For more information on these manuscripts, see an online essay by Stephanie Wood at: http://whp.uoregon.edu/Lockhart/Wood.pdf, and another by Xavier Noguez and Raymundo Martínez at:ículo_Xavier_Noguez_%26_Raymundo_Martínez.) Another local who came forward to collaborate is Moisés Santillán Zerón, a physics professor in Mexico City and former resident of Tolcayuca, modern state of Hidalgo, a community that is linked to two additional Techialoyan manuscripts. Also invaluable has been the input of Ignacio Silva Cruz, a native speaker and a translator who worked at the Mexican national archives and continues to study pictorial manuscripts.


A major breakthrough that helped move the Mapas Project forward came in 2004 with the donation by Jay I. Kislak of his valuable manuscript and map collection to the Library of Congress. Having those unpublished records placed in the public domain made their access much easier and motivated us to help make some of them available once again to the Mexican communities that produced them. We selected the four Techialoyan manuscripts in the Kislak Colelction because Wood has considerable familiarity with that genre of Nahuatl-language record. Fortunately, the National Endowment for the Humanities saw the value in working with the Kislak Collection and underwrote the two-year project of processing, describing, transcribing, and translating the four manuscripts we selected and using them as the basis for a new website.

Not part of the grant, but something we incorporated into the project, was the creation of the Distance Research Environment (DRE) with a database for storing and studying the manuscripts and their details. The DRE facilitated the close examination of the manuscript elements by a number of collaborating scholars. Stephanie Wood had the primary responsibility for the image descriptions and textual analysis of the Kislak Techialoyans. Collaborators included James Lockhart, professor emeritus of history at UCLA (who checked the transcriptions and the translations to English), and Dana Leibsohn, professor of art history at Smith College (who checked the image descriptions). A graduate student, Nicolás Enriori García, took the primary responsibility for making the translations from English into Spanish.

As noted, the Kislak Techialoyan manuscripts had not previously been published in facsimile form. Wood had published a Spanish translation of the one from San Cristóbal Tezcalucan and Santa María Magdalena Chichicaspa in the modern state of México. But, at that time, the original Nahuatl and pictorial version was presumed burned by the high court in New Spain in the early eighteenth century. Two more of the Kislak Techialoyans relate to the town of San Juan Tolcayuca, Hidalgo, Mexico, already mentioned. And the fourth is linked to El Cardonal, formerly called Santa María Iztacapan, also in the modern state of Hidalgo. This one was a challenge to identify, given that the name of the town had changed. A colleague in Pachuca, Raúl Macuil, formerly of the Luis Reyes García seminar, helped clarify that for us. In 2007 Macuil took Wood to visit Tolcayuca and El Cardonal, among other communities in the region, where she shot photographs that may one day be included here.

Expanding the Project

Although Stephanie Wood is a specialist in Techialoyan manuscripts and the Nahuatl language, it is clearly not our intention to focus only on these unusual pictorials from the late seventeenth- to early-eighteenth centuries. Our next phase is taking us in important new directions. First, we are seeking to add greater temporal depth to the digital collection, inserting some of the sixteenth-century manuscripts from our first phase into the new database. Second, we hope to move beyond a simple focus on Nahua-authored pictorials and texts, and include manuscripts from additional cultural groups, such as the Mixtecs and Zapotecs.

We also hope to continue bringing in manuscripts that have a variety of formats -- single scenes, multiple scenes, large format, paintings on hide or cloth, and so on -- to see what challenges these represent for analysis and storage of the details. The University of Oregon houses the Mapa de Mixtepec, a painted hide that is originally from what is now the state of Oaxaca and bears the signature of a government official known to have been active at the end of the seventeenth century. This pictorial, with glosses in Spanish and Zapotec, is high on our list of priorities.