In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Mexican Historiography and the Legacy of Alva Ixtlilxochitl

Latin American Studies Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl
Amber Brian
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0237


Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl (b. c. 1578–d. 1650) is a relatively unknown figure outside of specialist academic circles, yet he has been very influential in the development of the historiography of pre-Hispanic central Mexico, or Anahuac. Born in the last quarter of the 16th century, his family had roots in Anahuac and in Spain. His mother was descended from elite native rulers of the city of Tetzcoco, while his father was a Spanish settler who worked as a Nahuatl-Spanish interpreter in the courts of Mexico City. Alva Ixtlilxochitl also served as an interpreter and as a bureaucratic official in the colonial government. During his lifetime, Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s family’s wealth and status were tied to his mother’s and grandmother’s connections to the family’s cacicazgo (landed estate) in San Juan Teotihuacan. Yet it was his ancestors from Tetzcoco who were the primary object of study in his five historical works. In four historical accounts and his magnum opus, the History of the Chichimeca Nation (2019, cited under Manuscripts, Editions, Translations), Alva Ixtlilxochitl recounts the origins, deeds, and exploits of the leaders of Tetzcoco, including the renowned Nezahualcoyotl (r. 1429–1472) and Nezahualpilli (r. 1472–1515). For these histories he relied on native sources. As he says himself in the prefatory materials to the History of the Chichimeca Nation, these sources included “painted histories and annals and the songs with which they preserved them,” and to make sense of these materials he sought out “the elders of New Spain who were renowned for their knowledge and understanding of those stories” (History of the Chichimeca Nation, p. 29). The result of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s research and writing has left an important legacy in studies of the history of ancient Mexico. Scholars from the 17th century onward drew on Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s representations of pre-Hispanic and conquest-era Mexico to such an extent that his depictions of Tetzcoco as a center of learning and culture and his depictions of Nezahualcoyotl as a revered poet-king became standard in both academic studies and popular culture. Burgeoning scholarly interest in mestizo historians in the 1990s brought renewed attention to Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s writings and to his position as a colonial subject and author, while the rediscovery of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s original manuscripts in the 1980s provided new material sources with which to study the creation and impact of his works. Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s own projects and his legacy represent an important reminder of how, on occasion, the stories and storytelling of native peoples survived the brutalities of conquest and colonialism.

General Overviews

The most comprehensive overviews of the life and works of Alva Ixtlilxochitl are found in three introductions to volumes or editions, along with an essay that introduced a special issue of a journal dedicated to Alva Ixtlilxochitl. O’Gorman 1975 is the introductory essay to Edmundo O’Gorman’s two-volume Alva Ixtlilxochitl 1975–1977 (cited under Manuscripts, Editions, Translations) and is the first detailed study of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s oeuvre based on archival sources. O’Gorman 1977 is a compilation of archival documents related to Alva Ixtlilxochitl found at the end of the second volume. These sources provide a foundational context for the study of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s biography and his writings. Brian, et al. 2019 is a scholarly introduction to the History of the Chichimeca Nation (Alva Ixtlilxochitl 2019, cited under Manuscripts, Editions, Translations), Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s lengthiest and most widely read work. Townsend 2014 offers an insightful introduction to Alva Ixtlilxochitl more broadly, as does Lee and Brokaw 2016.

  • Brian, Amber, Bradley Benton, Peter B. Villella, and Pablo García Loaeza. “Introduction.” In History of the Chichimeca Nation: Don Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Seventeenth-Century Chronicle of Ancient Mexico. Edited and translated by Amber Brian, Bradley Benton, Peter B. Villella, and Pablo García Loaeza, 3–23. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2019.

    This introductory essay situates Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s life and work in colonial-era Mexico, emphasizing how the History of the Chichimeca Nation is the product of the author’s access to native sources that are reinscribed in a Hispano-Catholic sociopolitical context. The essay also addresses the many later scholars, including Sigüenza y Góngora, Boturini, and Prescott, who drew on Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s history in their own studies and writings.

  • Lee, Jongsoo, and Galen Brokaw. “Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl and Colonial Indigenous Historiography from the Conquest to the Present.” In Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl and His Legacy. Edited by Jongsoo Lee and Galen Brokaw, 3–28. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2016.

    This essay serves as an introduction to an edited volume, containing an additional eight chapters, dedicated to Alva Ixtlilxochitl. The authors trace aspects of his biography, acknowledging some that are disputed, such as the suggestion that he was a student at the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco. They also outline major studies of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s writings and their impact, including those of Ángel María Garibay Kintana and Rolena Adorno.

  • O’Gorman, Edmundo. “Estudio introductorio.” In Obras históricas. Vol. 1. By Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl. Edited by Edmundo O’Gorman, 1–257. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Institución de Investigaciones Históricas, 1975.

    This expansive introductory apparatus accompanies the most comprehensive and reliable published edition of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s five historical works. O’Gorman includes multiple chronologies related to Alva Ixtlilxochitl as well as his antecedents and his legacy, in addition to comparative chronologies of significant events from the histories. He includes extensive lists of quotations from the texts and from other related texts. Of enduring relevance is his detailed study of the texts themselves.

  • O’Gorman, Edmundo, ed. “Apéndice documental.” In Obras históricas. Vol. 2. By Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl. Edited by Edmundo O’Gorman, 265–402. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Institución de Investigaciones Históricas, 1977.

    At the end of the second volume of O’Gorman’s two-volume edition of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s works, he includes twenty-six primarily legal documents associated with the author. These materials, largely located in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City, provide relevant context for Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s historical works and his legacy.

  • Townsend, Camilla. “Introduction: The Evolution of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s Scholarly Life.” Colonial Latin American Review 23.1 (2014): 1–17.

    As the introductory essay to a special issue of Colonial Latin American Review related specifically to Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Townsend presents a detailed explanation of Alva Ixtlilxochitl’s biography, his intellectual project, and the social milieu that informed it. She emphasizes that the author was engaged with both native story-keepers and writers, like Tlaxcalteca Tadeo de Niza, and European intellectuals, like Fray Juan de Torquemada, from whom Alva Ixtlilxochitl presumably acquired Niza’s text.

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