Beginning in the sixteenth century, the Viceroyalty of New Spain sought to extend its influence into a northern region beyond the bounds of the old Mexica empire. Yet the lands and peoples described in early sources as the Gran Chichimeca remain poorly understood to this day, the term itself betraying colonial writers' ignorance of ethnographic reality. The challenges of studying the indigenous peoples of the north are familiar to most Mexican historians. Even the apparently simple goal of describing the locations and boundaries of ethnic and political communities proves exceedingly complex in practice. Northern Indian nations were highly mobile and their social boundaries porous; subsistence was precarious, disease rampant, and violence ubiquitous. The documentary record is thin, both because northern peoples lacked literacy and because most literate observers were largely ignorant of conditions outside colonial settlements.

In Fronterización del espacio hacia el...

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