In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Post-Conquest Aztecs

  • Introduction
  • General Studies
  • Collections of Mixed Essays
  • Social History and Community Studies
  • Specialized Studies
  • Spiritual Conquest
  • Extirpation of Idolatry
  • Politics and Law
  • Women, Sexuality, and Gender
  • Language
  • Literature
  • Art and Architecture
  • Modern Nahua Peoples

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Latin American Studies Post-Conquest Aztecs
John F. Schwaller
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0103


Following the conquest of Mexico by the Spanish, the Aztec people, more appropriately known as the Nahua, continued to be the dominant culture of the region. Throughout the next several centuries, the Spanish sought to replace the Nahua culture with a Christian, Spanish culture, to greater or lesser effect. In the 20th century, scholars began to look at the history of the native peoples of Mexico as they existed under Spanish domination. The earliest of these studies drew heavily upon archival documents written in Spanish and housed both in Mexico and in Spain. Yet since the 1970s, scholars have discovered large numbers of documents written in the Aztec language (Nahuatl). Studies have come to rely more and more, and to a greater or lesser degree, on Nahuatl language documentation. The focus of scholarly attention has dealt with the ways in which the Nahua people have adopted European ways while still maintaining vestiges of their old culture. Studies of individual native communities and how they have changed over time have become increasingly important in the scholarship. Scholars also have sought increasingly to compare many aspects of the pre-Hispanic and post-conquest periods. The theme of the evangelization of the Nahua has also been a major focus of research. More specialized studies have looked at native leadership, the grafting of Spanish legal systems on the native ones, and they have focused on sexuality and sexual identity. Needless to say, the Nahuatl language has become central to understanding the historical development of the Nahua after the conquest. As a result, considerable scholarship has focused on the language and on texts written in it as well as on texts written in Spanish by people of native origin. These texts run the gamut from civil registers to doctrinal works aimed at native peoples to chronicles and histories. Lastly, the means whereby Nahua people adopted European artistic traditions, while remaining rooted in their own culture has grown to become an active area of research. These studies have looked at colonial documents illustrated in a modified pre-Hispanic style as well as in artistic expression in painting and sculpture.

General Studies

General studies focusing on the Aztecs after the conquest have gone through a clear evolution. The field reached its apogee with the publication of Gibson 1991 (originally published in 1964), a critical study, based on meticulous research in Mexico and Spain. Yet Gibson consulted only Spanish-language documents. Recognizing that only part of the story was told using Spanish documents, the author of Lockhart 1992 took the same topic as found in Gibson 1991, yet based his work on Nahuatl documentation. Lockhart recognized that many essential elements discovered by Gibson were validated, yet many concepts identified by Gibson reflected a bias rooted in the Spanish-language documentation, such as the reported drunkenness of the natives. Lockhart 1991 explores these ideas in a series of short essays focusing on specific topics, pieces that ultimately did not fit into the author’s larger 1992 work. The author of Keen 1971 reflects another tradition in that he traced the development of how the Aztecs were perceived in the West after the conquest. The slow process of acculturation, whereby the cultures of the Nahua and the Spanish merged, is the theme of Gruzinski 1993. Lockhart, et al. 2007 brings together many scholars to develop an important guide to the analysis of a wide range of colonial document types. It is an essential point of departure for further study in the field. Liza Bakewell and Byron Hamann have developed an extremely useful website (Mesolore: A Research and Teaching Tool on Mesaomerica) in which both students and researchers can find valuable resources for the study of both the Nahua and the Mixtec, a people who lived in the mountainous region to the south and east of the core Nahua region.

  • Gibson, Charles. Aztecs under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519–1810. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991.

    Gibson offered the first major study of the colonial history of the Aztecs. It was groundbreaking for its time, but suffered from being based solely on Spanish-language documentation. Nonetheless, many of the essential principles developed by Gibson are still valid in the light of more recent scholarship. Originally published in 1964.

  • Gruzinski, Serge. The Conquest of Mexico: The Incorporation of Indian Societies into the Western World, 16th–18th Centuries. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1993.

    This work broke new ground in looking at the encounter between the Spanish and the Nahua using the native point of view. He looks at the changes that occurred as the native consciousness was colonized by alphabetic texts, which displaced the pictographic.

  • Keen, Benjamin. The Aztec Image in Western Thought. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1971.

    Keen traces the changing perception of the Aztecs in the Western world. From the time of the first accounts of the conquest through the present, Western culture has seen the Aztecs largely through a European lens, reflecting issues of interest to each generation of authors.

  • Lockhart, James. Nahuas and Spaniards: Postconquest Central Mexican History and Philology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991.

    Although Lockhart 1992 is extensive, several topics were ultimately not included. This collection of essays reflects many of the minor themes that, for one reason or another, did not fit well in the larger work.

  • Lockhart, James. The Nahuas after the Conquest: A Social and Cultural History of the Indians of Central Mexico, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.

    Lockhart’s work has become the touchstone for all further research on the post-conquest Aztecs. Lockhart drew heavily on both Nahuatl- and Spanish-language documentation to provide a nuanced view of the Aztecs. Especially important is his division of language change into three distinct periods.

  • Lockhart, James, Lisa Sousa, and Stephanie Wood, eds. Sources and Methods for the Study of Postconquest Mesoamerican Ethnohistory: Provisional Version. Eugene: Wired Humanities Project, University of Oregon, 2007.

    Many of the leading scholars of the field of post-conquest ethnohistory have contributed essays to this collection. The studies focus on the analysis of many types of documents, ranging from testaments and tributes to legal documents and colonial pictorial documents.

  • Mesolore: A Research and Teaching Tool on Mesoamerica.

    An extremely useful resource for scholars and students, this website offers materials focused on both the Nahua and the Mixtec, including pictorial manuscripts and colonial-era dictionaries and glossaries. Included also are lesson plans, syllabi, and tutorials.

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