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Ricardo Aguilar-Gonzalez

I am a historian of pre-Hispanic to colonial Mexico and Central America. My main research interests are on social change, adaptation, and negotiation in the transition from pre-Hispanic to colonial period and on the legacies of colonialism in Latin America. I have conducted research on Mesoamerican history, colonial indigenous nobility, conquests and alliances between indigenous peoples and Iberian peoples, colonial indigenous taxation, and more recently, on the history of foods and drinks.

Sculpture of Tlaltecuhtli reused as wheat millstone in sixteenth-century colonial Mexico @MNA, INAH, Mexico.

Sculpture of Tlaltecuhtli Goddess of the Earth, reused as millstone in sixteenth-century colonial Mexico. @_MNA_INAH-Mexico.

Ongoing research

I am currently completing my PhD at the University of Warwick studying the ‘Sustenance: foods, drinks and bodies in the colonisation of Mesoamerica, 1350-1600’. I look at the political and religious use of foods and drinks in this process of accelerated social change. To understand the key role of foods and drinks in early colonial Mexico and Guatemala I first research pre-Hispanic sustenance. I focus on the relationship between the composition of human and animal bodies and the classification of foods and drinks. I argue, based on the examination of primary sixteenth-century sources and archaeological and anthropological scholarship, there was a segmented and relational use of foods and drinks. Maize, mesquite, tubers, and legumes breads, vegetables, and non-alcoholic drinks were everyday sustenance, the matter that replenished the muscles and bones of animals and humans. On the other hand, meats, breads made of amaranth, agave syrup, and toasted maize flour contained a vitality that replenished the honour, courage and covenant of communities to their ruler.

The second section of my thesis deals with the role of foods and drinks in the process of Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica known as ‘the Conquest’, and in the settlement of colonialism. Production of wheat and maize, along with the introduction of Mediterranean foodstuffs, was the basis for the sustenance that made possible both the endurance of conquistadors and their campaigns, and the expansion of Christianity, whose central religious ritual consisted of the making, braking, sharing, and ingesting of bread. While intensive production of Mediterranean and Mesoamerican breads was promoted by the Spanish authorities, indigenous communities negotiated, disputed, adapted and reinterpreted the religious and political meanings and uses of breads to endure colonialism. For instance, in the fifth chapter I make it explicit that to understand the role of sustenance in the context of colonialism it is necessary to consider the labour. That is, grains, water, vegetables and animals become foods just as they are capable to replenish the bodies of the people who keep the machinery of colonial enterprises running. Colonialism meant an imbalance in the relationship between the amount and the type of foods and drinks provided to the workers, the excessive workload imposed by conquistadores and encomenderos, and the insufficient rest. Colonisation brought about the collapse of the system of replenishment of the colonial bodies, which translated in the decimation of the native population across the sixteenth century. Surviving communities, and colonial towns and cities emerged from the demographic collapse to be republics to produce breads. Town hospitals, colonial towns, and cities based their capacity to produce wheat and maize breads.

By incorporating the social and religious uses of foods and drinks in the transition from pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica to sixteenth-century New Spain, my thesis provides a ground for a study of sustenance to serve symbolic, kin-formation, and economic purposes. By looking at sustenance as segmented and relational matter used to comply with specific political and religious colonial agendas, I add up to the growing historiography on the history of the racialised bodies in early-modern world.

A focus on breads

As part of this research, I also got involved with the Digging into Early Colonial Mexico (DECM) research group based at Lancaster University. Training provided by this research group led by Paty Murrieta Flores and Raquel Liceras Garrido allowed me to work on the 12 volumes of the Relaciones de Indias. I digitally annotated these primary sources related with breads (Mesoamerican and Mediterreanean). I used, along with Dr Godwin Yeboah, the DECM historical gazetteer to geolocate the production and ingestion of fourteen different types of bread across New Spain (colonial Mexico and Guatemala). We thus related the introduction of Mediterranean breads with elevation and farming landscapes. The result of this geohistorical trail was that indigenous knowledge about the cultivation of landscapes, and labour were the keys to adapt foreign crops in colonial Mexico and Guatemala. We have thus written the paper ‘Foodscapes of breads in colonial Mexico and Guatemala using a historical gazetteer’.


I have co-authored, with art historian Angelica Afanador-Pujol, Don Antonio Huitzimengari: Request and Life of an native noble in sixteenth-Century New Spain, (Mexico, UNAM, 2019, in Spanish), a monographic study on the intellectual context of production of a petition for royal grants mercedes reales to the king in 1553, and the transcription of don Antonio’s 1553 written appeal. Heirs of the pre-Hispanic rulers composed, or commissioned to create, the writing of reports based on the testimonies of witnesses that confirmed their deeds in the conquests of Mesoamerica. Petitions for grants, such as the ‘información’ of Don Antonio, provide an account of the conquests and colonisation of Mesoamerica, from the perspective of the native elite. It also shows that, far from the nationalistic assumption that understands the ‘Conquest’ as a single event based on the Spanish seize of Mexico-Tenochtitlan in 1521, there were myriad conquests across Mesoamerica in a continuum from 1518 to 1573. Governors from indigenous sovereignties negotiated, reinterpreted, and adapted Spanish conquest legal structure to survive politically in the colonial realities of New Spain.

I have also edited the 14-chapter book Tilling and Opening Pathways: Essays on Memory and Regional History in honour of Gerardo Sánchez Díaz (Morelia, UMSNH, 2022, in Spanish). The essays of this book emerged from the study of indigenous, military, religious and education communities in quest to collect, archive and organise the memories that provided a common basis in what is currently known as western Mexico from pre-Hispanic to modern times. The unifying premise of this book is that the region, and not the nation, is the most immediate and vivid space for the creation of social memory. Region is fraught with social meanings because it is a space that it is experienced by its inhabitants. Four essays, including the introduction, deal directly with the relation between social memory and the shaping of regions. Ten essays, ranging from land tenure disputes, the use of Morelia cityscape as warzone in nineteenth century, regional social tensions caused by nationally centralised agro-industrial development in post-revolutionary Mexico, are based on case studies on western Mexico from pre-Hispanic to modern times.

I have also published book chapters on colonial indigenous history and book reviews in Mexican history journals.

Work experience

I have taught history at the University of Warwick (UK), and historiography, regional history, history of Mexican art and ESOL at UMSNH, UNAM, UNLA in Morelia.

I have also worked as head of the ‘Luis Chávez Orozco’ Research Library for the year 2016-17 and as editor of the Publications Board from 2017 to 2018 at the Department of History at Michoacan State University (Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Morelia).

I was founder of the Bachelor’s degree on Geohistory at UNAM, Morelia, where I created in 2011-2012 the curriculum for the module ‘Ancient World to Renaissance, Historiography and Geohistory of the West’. I was part of this programme and I regularly taught this module from 2014 to 2018.

Conference Organiser
- International Conference: Convergent sights on the city, at Saint Nicholas Hidalgo Michoacán State University, Morelia, August 14-16, 2017. DOI:
- ‘Honourable guests arrive before dusk’: Hospitality, hospitals and foreignness in the Iberian world, at Saint Nicholas Hidalgo Michoacán State University, Morelia, August 17, 2017.

2018 - 2021 University of Warwick, (PhD) History
2006 - 2008 Department of History, Michoacan State University (UMSNH, Morelia) (MA research) Mexican History.
1999 - 2003 School of History Michoacan State University (UMSNH, Morelia), History.


Contact details:


Chancellor's International Scholarship, The University of Warwick

Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Morelia

Conacyt, Mexico