This course explores the origins, glory days, and political collapse of the Aztec Empire and Maya civilizations. Students also study the cultural, political, sexual, and racial interactions of the Great Encounter between Mesoamericans and Europeans. Focus is on archaeology, mythology, human sacrifice, divine kingship, and transculturation in Mesoamerican and Latino cultures. The course has the added feature of online meetings that focus on ways Latino art, music, and dance utilize Aztec and Maya themes. Artists include Frida Kahlo, Dr. Loco, Son Jarocho, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Cherrie Moraga. Hands-on work with objects at the Peabody Museum aid in examining art, religion, costume, and gift exchange as well as new concepts of race, nation, and the persistence of Moctezuma's Mexico in Latino identities in the Mexico-US borderlands, such as La Virgen de Guadalupe and Days of the Dead. The recorded lectures are from the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences course Societies of the World 30.

Meet The Author

David Carrasco

David Carrasco

Neil L. Rudenstine Professor for the Study of Latin America, Harvard University.


  • BA, Western Maryland College
  • ThM, MA, PhD, University of Chicago


Davíd Carrasco (Neil L. Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America) is a Mexican American historian of religions with particular interest in Mesoamerican cities as symbols, and the Mexican-American borderlands. His studies with historians of religions at the University of Chicago inspired him to work on the question, 'where is your sacred place,' on the challenges of postcolonial ethnography and theory, and on the practices and symbolic nature of ritual violence in comparative perspective. Working with Mexican archaeologists, he has carried out research in the excavations and archives associated with the sites of Teotihuacan and Mexico-Tenochtitlan resulting in Religions of Mesoamerica, City of Sacrifice, and Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire. An award-winning teacher, he has participated in spirited debates at Harvard with Cornel West and Samuel Huntington on the topics of race, culture, and religion in the Americas. Recent collaborative publications include Breaking Through Mexico's Past: Digging the Aztecs With Eduardo Matos Moctezuma (2007), Mysteries of the Maya Calendar Museum (2012) with Laanna Carrasco, and Cave, City, and Eagle's Nest: An Interpretive Journey Through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 (2007; gold winner of the 2008 PubWest Book Design Award in the academic book/nontrade category) recently featured in The New York Review of Books. His work has included a special emphasis on the religious dimensions of Latino experience: mestizaje, the myth of Aztlan, transculturation, and La Virgen de Guadalupe. He is co-producer of the film Alambrista: The Director's Cut, which puts a human face on the life and struggles of undocumented Mexican farm workers in the United States, and he edited Alambrista and the U.S.-Mexico Border: Film, Music, and Stories of Undocumented Immigrants (University of New Mexico Press). He is editor-in-chief of the award-winning three-volume Oxford Encyclopedia of Mesoamerican Cultures. His most recent publication is a new abridgement of Bernal Díaz del Castillo's memoir of the conquest of Mexico, History of the Conquest of New Spain (University of New Mexico Press). Carrasco has received the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor the Mexican government gives to a foreign national. He has recently been chosen as the University of Chicago Alumnus of the Year, 2014.

Selected publications

  • The Aztecs: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2012) Publisher page
  • The History of the Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Diaz del Castillo (University of New Mexico Press, 2009) Publisher page
  • Cave, City, and Eagle's Nest: An Interpretive Journey through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 (University of New Mexico Press, 2007) Publisher page
  • Breaking through Mexico's Past: Digging the Aztecs with Eduardo Matos Moctezuma (University of New Mexico Press, 2007) Publisher page
  • Mesoamerica's Classic Heritage: From Teotihuacan to the Aztecs (University Press of Colorado, 2002) Publisher page
  • Moctezuma's Mexico: Visions of the Aztec World, rev. ed. (University Press of Colorado, 2002) Publisher page
  • Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire, rev. ed. (University Press of Colorado, 2001) Publisher page
  • City of Sacrifice: The Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilization (Beacon Press, 2000) Publisher page
William L. Fash

William L. Fash

Charles P. Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.


1995 Ed.D. (Honorary), Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
1983 Ph.D. in Anthropology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
1976 B.A., Anthropology, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
1975 Summer Archaeological Field School at Grasshopper, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ


William Fash worked on archaeological digs in Arizona and in Central Mexico while obtaining his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Illinois (1976). In his first year in graduate school at Harvard University he joined Gordon R. Willey’s archaeological project in Copán, Honduras, Central America in 1977. He and his wife Barbara have been working at Copán ever since, in a series of multi-institutional, multi-national, and interdisciplinary research efforts devoted to illuminating all aspects of ancient Maya lifeways and culture history at one of its most renowned ancient cities. With Barbara Fash, he created the Copan Mosaics Project in 1985, and subsequently spearheaded efforts to conceive, design, and construct the Sculpture Museum in Copán which showcases the magnificent cultural heritage from this site. This museum has proved important to local pride and understanding, and to the cultural patrimony of Honduras and Mesoamerica as a whole.

For his efforts he was awarded the Order of José Cecilio del Valle by the President of Honduras in 1994, and selected to succeed his mentor, Gordon Willey, as Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and History at Harvard University in that same year. He served as Chair of Harvard’s Department of Anthropology from 1998 – 2004, and as Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology since 2004. From 2000-2003 he conducted archaeological excavations at the Xalla Compound in Teotihuacan, Mexico, with his colleagues Leonardo López Luján and Linda Manzanilla. He is the author of Scribes, Warriors, and Kings: The City of Copán and the Ancient Maya (1991, rev. ed. 2001), History Carved in Stone (1992, with Ricardo Agurcia), Copán: The History of an Ancient Maya Kingdom (2005, with E. Wyllys Andrews), The Ancient American World (2005, with Mary Lyons), Gordon R. Willey and American Archaeology: Contemporary Perspectives (2007, co-editor with Jeremy Sabloff), and The Art of Urbanism: How Mesoamerican Kingdoms
Represented Themselves in Architecture and Imagery (2009, co-edited with Leonardo López Luján).

William and his wife Barbara recently received the Hoja de Laurel de Oro, a lifetime achievement award, conferred by the Minister of Culture and the Arts, and the Office of the President. It recognizes 30-plus years of service in preserving and documenting Honduras’ cultural heritage.

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