Undergraduate Seminar: Photography, Archaeology and Maya Ruins: the Frenchman Désiré Charnay in Mexico
This seminar will focus on the extraordinary photographs of Mexico by the French nineteenth-century photographer Désiré Charnay during his first voyage of 1857-1861. Already an experienced photographer (he took up the medium in 1853 in Paris), he photographed Maya ruins in Yucatán (Izamal, Uxmal, Chichén Itzá), Oaxaca (Mitla), and Chiapas (Palenque), which he published as the atlas to his Cités et ruines américaines in 1862. To make these photographs he had to hire locals to help transport two tons of equipment and also to hack away dense forest and undergrowth hiding the monuments. Bancroft Library holds Charnay’s photographs and we will meet in their seminar room in order to study them intensively. Among topics to be examined are the differences between graphic illustrations and photographs, the history of representations of Maya and pre-Hispanic Mexican culture and monuments, the early history of Mexican archaeology, illustrated travel accounts, the colonial role of photography in the nineteenth-century, archaeology’s reliance on different visual media, and the history of racial typologies.
We are organizing this as an undergraduate seminar, but encourage interested graduate students to enroll. Reading knowledge of French and/or Spanish is ideal, but not a prerequisite.
Interested students must attend the first meeting; enrollment is by instructor approval only.