Codex Mendoza: The Historic Resource on Pre-Columbian Mexico is Now Digitally Available to the Public

A major primary source documenting the daily life of Aztec society has been recently digitized and made available to the public. This document, the 1542 Codex Mendoza is a detailed guide to Aztec life created under the orders of Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza twenty years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. According to the introduction to the archive, it was created to “evoke an economical, political, and social panorama of the recently conquered lands.” Since 1659, it has been stored in the collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.

Mexican codices are both image and text-based documents that many pre-Hispanic cultures created to record and share knowledge and information. Codices are of special interest as, according to Dr. Baltazar Brito and Dr. Gerardo Gutierrez:

“…the knowledge contained in most of them is not actually recorded in a language that represents a language, as in the case of modern languages. Codices are part of a different communication system…They are composed of images and icons that work in tandem with memory, voice, and knowledge of individuals able to read them.”

Codex2

Illustrations found within the Codex Mendoza manuscript. 

This digitized document represents the first online in-depth study of a Mexican codex, created by National Institute of Anthropology and History with the aid of the Bodleian Library and Oxford’s King’s College in London. Their overall approach is highly innovative in its means of sharing and analyzing a complex document of this nature. The high-resolution scans also feature three different tabs for analyzing the document, “Transcription,” “Hypermedia,” and “Materiality.” These tabs allow for three varied means of understanding the scanned pages before you. The transcription tab provides both a clear English and Spanish translation of the text, which appears in a text box hovers over the portion of the text your cursor is on (see screenshots). Viewing the document via the hypermedia lens adds additional information that is useful for depicting border decorations and drawn images within the text. The Materiality function allows a zoom feature to further explore the object. Hyperallergic author Allison Meier looks at this digitization in the long term, in her article about the Codex Mendoza, “A Historic Manuscript on Aztec Life Is “‘Virtually Repatriated.'” Meier writes that ideally, the National Institute of Anthropology and History plans for this to be just the first in a series of archived and digitally available Mexican codices.

Detail of illustrated Codex Mendoza, shown with text hovering over images to highlight the interactive interface of the platform. 

This interactive and intuitive website design is unique and allows for the use of this primary source to be not just of academic/scholarly interest, but to anyone with interest in this important piece of Mexican history. You can access this digitized version of the Codex Mendoza here.

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