Harbingers and Responses to Pandemics

LACMA podcast in conversation with Diana Magaloni
Settlements that completely disappeared vs. those that survived during the colonial period in Central Mexico according to Diaz-Cayeros, Espinosa Balbuena and Jha (2022)

Although many observers in the past deemed [famines] “inevitable” or “natural”, throughout history the poor and the landless have protested and resisted the approach of famines, which they considered to be caused by humans. The conviction that a more caring elite had the power and a less rapacious trading class had the resources to mitigate — if not to eradicate — disaster was usually present.

Florentine Codex Book VII, folio 16r. Storing of food for the year of the famine, 1-rabbit.

Nothing was thrown away; all then was saved — wild seeds not commonly eaten; musty maize; corn silk; corn tassels; pulp scraped from maguey tappings, tuna cactus flowers; cooked maguey leaves; heated maguey sap. Everything was taken into account: [with] Amaranth even the weeds were threshed; [as for] the beans, likewise were stored and put away unripened ones and the dried, withered ends of the green beans. And when they had used all, they satisfied and quickened themselves [with] bird seed, bitter amaranth or bright red amaranth, and yacacolli maize.

Florentine Codex Book VII, folio 16v. Provisional slavery as a response to famine, in which even lords sell themselves and their children to escape death.
Obsidian mirror from the LACMA collection. Mexico, Valley of Mexico, Aztec, 1325–1521. Stone Obsidian. Diameter: 4 1/4 in. (10.2 cm). Gift of Constance McCormick Fearing (M.85.233.11).
The extraordinary extraction of tribute the encomendero Gonzalo de Salazar from the people of Tepetlaoztoc when he was summoned back to Spain in 1529. The tribute includes twice the regular amount of gold, ten obsidian mirrors, fine cloths, jewels, cacao and feather headdresses, in addition to the usual yearly tribute in blankets and foodstuffs. Codex Tepetlaoztoc, also known as the Codex Kingsborough, British Museum, 72 folios, European paper, 29.8 X 21.5 cm. Am2006,Drg.13964

And when he departed to the kingdoms of Spain, [Gonzalo de Salazar] requested for his journey three hundred turkeys and four hundred chicken, sixteen thousand grains of ground cacao to drink, four hundred cloth sandals (alpargatas), two hundred leather sandals (cutarras), four hundred painted jars (jicaras), in addition to what they were forced to give [normally]. A large number of indian porters loaded from the town of Tepetlaoztoc to the port of Veracruz, which is distant more than 70 leagues. There, two hundred and twenty commoner indians (macehuales) and eight lord (principales) died.

The mortuary wrapping denotes the commoners who died, including their numbers, as well as the lords on the left, in seated poses. Their faces are shaded in grey to indicate their deaths.



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Alberto Diaz-Cayeros

Alberto Diaz-Cayeros

Mexicano orgulloso, migrante renuente. Economista ITAM y Politólogo Duke. Senior Fellow en CDDRL y Director Centro Estudios Latinoamericanos Stanford University