Talk to focus on European disease in colonial Mexico

Kevin Terraciano, professor of history and chair of the Latin American Studies Program at UCLA, will present “The Unspeakable Cocoliztli of Colonial Mexico: How People Talked about Disease in the Age of American Epidemics” on Wednesday, May 12, at 7:30 p.m. in 201 Riley Hall.

The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored through the Jonas A. “Steine” Jonasson Endowed Lecture.

Using a variety of pictoral and alphabetic sources from the 16th century, Terraciano will discuss how indigenous populations in Mexico understood disease during the age of exploration and the Spanish conquest of the Americas. The impact of European diseases, such as smallpox, on Native American populations was grave, causing significant population decline in many areas of the New World. Yet, the traditional historical narrative of these events is dominated by Spanish sources, and gives a primarily European view of this element of conquest. Terraciano’s presentation will focus on the indigenous side to the story, and in doing so, will reveal a much more complex and nuanced view of the role of disease during the conquest and colonization of the Americas.

Terraciano received his Ph.D. from UCLA and joined the faculty as an assistant professor in 1995. He is chair of the Latin American Studies Program and associate director of the Latin American Institute. He specializes in colonial Latin American history, especially Mexico and the indigenous cultures and languages of central and southern Mexico. He is the author of a variety of publications, six of which have been awarded prizes.

Terraciano has also co-edited a volume with Lisa Sousa and Matthew Restall, “Mesoamerican Voices: Native-Language Writings from Colonial Mexico, Oaxaca, Yucatan, and Guatemala” (Cambridge University Press, 2005). His most recent publication on Nahua accounts of the conquest of Mexico is “Three Texts in One: Book XII of the Florentine Codex,” Ethnohistory, vol. 57 (1), 2010. He is now working on various translation projects involving the Nahuatl, Mixtec and Zapotec languages. He is co-author of a forthcoming book on a sixteenth-century Mixtec palace in Teposcolula, Oaxaca, known today as la casa de la cacica (“house of the female ruler”). He is writing a book manuscript, “Memories of the Conquest of Mexico,” and has begun research for another book about how indigenous people explained and remembered disease in colonial Mexico.

Terraciano’s commitment to research does not compromise his love for teaching. He has won several prizes for teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels, including the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award and the Eby Award for the Art of Teaching in 2001.

The Jonas A. “Steine” Jonasson Endowed Lectureship at Linfield honors Jonasson, professor emeritus of history who was associated with Linfield for more than 60 years before his death in 1997. The endowment is used to bring in distinguished scholars and speakers in the area of history. Jonasson held the unofficial title of Linfield historian and wrote “Bricks Without Straw,” a history of the college. For more information, contact Sharon Bailey Glasco, associate professor of Latin American and world history, 503-883-2306 or email