Sixteenth-Century Mexico: The Work of Sahagún is a collection of eleven articles which center around the life and times of the six-teenth-century Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún and his best known and most important work, the encyclopedic General History of the Things of New Spain. Sahagún’s General History is a major source of information on pre-Conquest Valley of Mexico religion, life, and language as well as more indirectly a source of information on the shifting cultural processes of the early post-Conquest era. The wide variety of topics and approaches found in Sixteenth-Century Mexico testifies to the significance, complexity, and richness of Sahagún’s work.
A brief summary of Sahagún’s life and work is given in the introductory article by Munro S. Edmonson. Articles by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Georges Baudot discuss Sahagún’s work as seen in an historical context. The questionnaires Sahagún used to obtain information from native informants for the General History are partially reconstructed by Alfredo López Austin. S. Jeffrey K. Wilkerson attributes the sixteenth-century Codex Tudela to Fray Andrés de Olmos and considers Olmos’ methodological approach similar to but earlier than that of Sahagún.
The huehuetlatolli collected by Sahagún are discussed and defined by Thelma D. Sullivan as rhetorical orations “in which the traditional religious, moral, and social concepts handed down from generation to generation were expressed in traditional language” (p. 82). Charles E. Dibble discusses Nahuatl literary style, specifically the use of pre-Hispanic metaphors, employed by Sahagún in various Christian texts. The need for critical evaluation of Sahagún’s General History texts as used for sociological information is stressed by Edward E. Calnek. López Austin, in a second article, proposes ways in which the medical texts of Sahagún might best be studied. The high degree of Spanish influence in the architectural illustrations of the General History suggests to Donald Robertson the possibility of equal Spanish influence in the text. The final article, by Miguel León-Portilla, sets forth seven areas relative to Sahagún’s work which need further study.
This book is of importance not only to historians of sixteenth-century Mexico but also to ethnohistorians of pre-Conquest Mexico who obtain information from sixteenth-century documents.