Rather than a dichotomous split between conqueror and conquered, interethnic relations in New Spain have increasingly been approached with nuance, recognizing the multiple identities and agendas at play. Afanador-Pujol’s meticulously researched book on the Relación de Michoacán (1539–41) sheds light on the careful crafting of history, both recent and ancient, on the part of two indigenous groups that made up the multiethnic Tarascan state: the migrant Uanacaze, and the isleños who originated on the islands of Lake Pátzcuaro. Commissioned by the Spanish viceroy, supervised by a Franciscan friar, and authored by indigenous nobles and artists, it is one of the earliest surviving manuscripts from colonial Mexico. The author reconstructs the history of the region as expressed in the manuscript with a particular eye for the political machinations of its authors.

Using colonial archival documents, Afanador-Pujol teases through the motivations behind the various...

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