History and Latin America

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The Great Festivals of Colonial Mexico City: Performing Power and Identity

Linda A. Curcio-Nagy

This innovative work of cultural history examines the function of public rituals in colonial Mexico City. Festivals were a defining characteristic of life in the capital. For most of the colonial period, inhabitants could witness as many as 100 religious and civil celebrations in a year. The largest of these events, both civil and religious, were sponsored by the authorities and were crucial means to embody political and social concepts.

The first European public rituals were introduced immediately after the conquest of the Aztec capital. Spanish priests seeking to evangelize the native population introduced Catholic festivals, and civil authorities sponsored celebrations designed to glorify the Spanish empire. Spectacle was one tool in an arsenal of colonizing agents, and over time the growing diversity of the population made festival statecraft all the more important, as government-sponsored revelry attempted to promote shared histories and values among diverse and potentially dangerous groups.

Festivals organizers developed a highly sophisticated message embedded within the celebrations that delineated the principles of leadership and the duties of both rulers and vassals. The pervasiveness of festivals and the power of the political message associated with them created possibilities for individuals to assess and participate in a larger discussion of good governance in the colony.


Linda A. Curcio-Nagy, a leading scholar in the new cultural history of Latin America, is professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Lyman L. Johnson is professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is also the general editor for UNM Press's Dialogos series.


"Well-written. . . the material is fascinating."


The Santa Fe New Mexican

"Curcio-Nagy has written a concise, accessible history of civil festivals in colonial Mexico City. . . . Recommended."



"A wonderful discovery, a careful, insightful, imaginative, and concise study of both the differences between Hapsburg and Bourbon royal authority and the gradual disintegration of colonial loyalty as seen through the lens of religous and royal festivities . . . superb book."


Society for Spanish and Portugese Historical Studies Bulletin

"This book presents a well-structured argument that uses the festival as a vehicle to explain colonial political culture in broad stokes. . A concise and accessible introduction to the politics and historiography of Spanish colonialism in Latin America."


Catholic Southwest

"This tightly-argued book deserves to be read by student and scholar alike."


Journal of Social History

"This concise, clearly written book, is a welcome addition to recent works dealing with the cultural history of New Spain."


The Americas

6 x 9 in. 232 pages 14 halftones