39426 - Historical Anthropology (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

Underscoring the importance of a diachronic dimension in anthropological thinking, the course will discuss the history and the core themes of scientific debate concerning historical anthropology and ethnohistory. At the end of the course, the student should have acquired a basic knolwledge of methods and theory of histirical anthropology, as well as the ability to carry on an anthropological reading of various kind of historical sources.

Course contents

Writing, history, and memory in Mesoamerica

The first classes will be devoted to the discussion of some debates concerning the theoretical and methodological statute of historical anthropology, especially those that tackled the topic of non-Western historicities and their relationships with various memory-recording modes. More specifically, lessons 1-2 will be devoted to the study of the past as it was conducted by the various anthropological schools between the end of the 18th and the first half of the 20th century. Lessons 3-5 will be devoted to a critical discussion of the relationship linking anthropological practice and European colonial expansion, including the "discovery" of non-Western historiographical traditions.

Lessons 6-8 will then describe the pre-colonial Mesoamerican writing systems and the main indigenous historiographic genres, stressing their forms as well as their political and ideological functions. The critical discussion of the available sources will include a consideration of the historical contexts in which they were produced.

In lessons 9-13 we will analyze the activities of Christian missionaries in New Spain, with a detailed reading of the historical account of the Conquest of Mexico as it was recorded in Book XII of Bernardino de Sahagún's Codex Florentines.

Finally, lessons 14-15 will be devoted to discuss how the discovery of America contributed to the birth of an ethnographic literary ethnographic genre, as well as to the reformulation of Western historiographic categiories and of the notion of universal history.


Class hours and rooms:

Tuesday, 11:00-13:00 Aula 1, via Zamboni 33

Thursday, 11:00-13:00 Aula 1, via Zamboni 33

Friday, 9:00-11:00 Aula 2, via Zamboni 33


Lessons starting on November 13th, 2018.



A. Viazzo, Pier Paolo, Introduzione all'antropologia storica, Laterza, Roma 2000.

B. Two of the following volumes:

Reader including various articles on Mesoamerican indigenous historiographic genres. The reader in pdf format will be uploaded among the didactic materials of the course.

Gruzinski, Serge, La colonizzazione dell'immaginario. Società indigene e occidentalizzazione nel Messico spagnolo, Einaudi, Torino 1994.

Gruzinski, Serge, La macchina del tempo. Quando l’Europa ha iniziato a scrivere la storia del mondo, Raffaello Cortina, Milano 2018.

Marcocci, Giuseppe, Indios, cinesi, falsari. Le storie del mondo nel Rinascimento, Laterza, Roma-Bari 2016.

Sahlins, Marshall, Isole di Storia. Società e mito nei mari del sud, Raffaello Cortina Editore 2016.


Students that did not attended the lessons must choose an additional book from the following list (or the one not chosen in group B):

Abulafia, David, La scoperta dell'umanità. Incontri atlantici nell'età di Colombo, Il Mulino, Bologna 2010.

Assmann, Jan, La memoria culturale. Scrittura, ricordo e identità politica nelle grandi civiltà antiche, Einaudi, Torino 1997.

Baudot, Georges, Utopia e storia in Messico. I primi cronisti della civiltà messicana (1520-1569), Biblioteca francescana, Bologna, 1992.

Fabian, Joannes, Il tempo e gli altri. La politica del tempo in antropologia, L'ancora del Mediterraneo, Napoli 1999.

Hartog, Francois, Regimi di storicità. Presentismo e esperienze del tempo, Sellerio, Palermo 2007.

Megged, Amos, Social Memory in Ancient and Colonial Mesoamerica, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2010.

Pagden, Anthony, La caduta dell'uomo naturale. L'indiano d'America e le origini dell'etnologia comparata, Einaudi, Torino, 1989.

Wolf, Eric, L'Europa e i popoli senza storia, Il Mulino, Bologna, 1990.


Teaching methods

The frontal lessons, in which discussion of new findings and publication will be stimulated, will be integrated by discussion sessions and speeches aimed to inform the students about the ongoing field researches.

Assessment methods

The final exam will be an oral one, with questions aimed to verify the student's knowledge of the themes discussed during frontal lessons (only for students that participated in classwork) as well as those treated in the program's texts. The questions will deal with general themes, and in his answer the student should show his capacity to go into specific details. Among the elements that concur in the final evaluation there are: detailed knowledge of the book's content, property of language, and especially the capacity of organizing the information – also deriving from different sources – into complex answers showing expositive and critical skills.  

Proper language and the ability to critically speak about the books' content will lead to a good/excellent final grade

Acceptable language and the ability to resume the books' content will lead to a sufficient/fair grade.

Insufficient linguistic proficiency and fragmentary knowledge of the books' content will lead to a failure in passing the exam.

To sign up for the exam, please use the Almaesami website.


Teaching tools

The frontal lessons will be supported by Power Point presentations in order to visualize elements that, due to their "exotic" character, are scarcely known to the students. The Power Point presentation will be uploaded in the “Teaching materials” section of this website.

Office hours

See the website of Davide Domenici