Making historic plays accessible

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When Daniel Mosquera's finished, plays once suppressed by the Catholic Church and the Inquisition will be accessible to anyone anywhere in the world.

Focusing on “Passion of Christ” productions in 18th Century Nahua Christian theater in Mexico, he and his colleagues have built a website that will house confiscated plays, related Inquisition reports and historical analysis.

“Since the XVI Century, both Nahuatl- and Spanish-speaking residents of colonial Mexico put on performances of ‘Passion of Christ,’ creating locally embodied enactments of this core Christian narrative,” Mosquera said. “Always embroiled in disputes over religious authority and orthodoxy, these staged spectacles fell under strict censure in the mid-18th Century. During that time, church authorities added an Enlightenment-inspired disdain for emotive display to their distrust of popular – especially indigenous – religion.”

Historic manuscript of a play written in Spanish

The project will digitize all manuscripts and make available English translations from indigenous Nahuatl and Spanish “Passion” plays. It will provide transcriptions of original and standardized versions of the plays. All documents related to the Inquisitional persecution of popular indigenous devotions will be transcribed into English. And the site will feature short ethnographic documentaries that explore “Passion of Christ” enactments in some central Mexico towns, where they are still performed today. The performances and interviews were filmed between 2009 and 2011.

“Given the multifaceted nature of this corpus and the interdisciplinary approach to its translation and analyses, we felt that a freely accessible digital platform would best capture and make accessible the richness, complexity and pluri-semantic value of Mexican indigenous Christianity,” Mosquera said.

Mosquera is responsible for translating the Spanish plays and Inquisitional case into English, as well as for their contextualizing and analysis. He is also responsible for the documentary video components.

Mosquera is co-director of the project, along with Louise M. Burkhart, professor and former chair of the Department of Anthropology and former director of the Institute for Mesoamerican Studies at the University of Albany. Other members of the team include Abelardo de la Cruz de la Cruz, Nahuatl native speaker and doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at the University at Albany; Rebecca Dufendach, research specialist and digital design expert at the Getty Research Institute; and Nadia Marin-Guadarrama, associate researcher in the Department of Anthropology at the University at Albany.

The project is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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