2018 IMS Scholarships Awardees

Congratulations to our 2018 awardees!

Christopher De Cormier Memorial Scholarship in Mesoamerican Studies

Abelardo speaking with elders

Abelardo de la Cruz de la Cruz, "Fieldwork in Nahua Indigenous Communities in Chicontepec"

Chicontepec (from the Nahuatl for “seven mountains”) is a Mexican municipality localized in northern Veracruz, where Nahuatl is the second language most spoken by indigenous people. Nahuatl also was the language of the Aztecs Empire before the conquest in 1521. In 1980, another wave of Catholic evangelization appeared in the villages of Chicontepec that caused a good number of conflicts with the respect to the traditional beliefs.

Through this fieldwork, and making use of my native languages of Nahuatl and Spanish, I will interview motiochiuhquetl/motiochihuanih (catechists) who now work as Christian Doctrine’s instructors, as well as other retired catechists. The work of these catechists started in 1980, when some younger people accepted to teach the new doctrine to the rest of the communities. Today these people are older and remember the history when the Christian doctrine arrived in their towns.

Focusing on catechists, I want to know how accepted is the new religion and how widespread the doctrine is in seven altepetl/pilaltepetzitzin (Nahua towns), because they appear as leaders in their own community. On the other hand, people continue believing in the local and traditional religion called El costumbre (from the Spanish for “the custom”) and conduct big ceremonies to their deities during the year.

As part of the same project, I also want to interview people that believe in Chicomexochitl (Seven-Flower) the highest deity in the local religion in Chicontepec, and currently they carry out ceremonies in honor to their deities such as atlatlacualtiliztli (a request for rain), elotlamanaliztli (corncob offering), and other spirits from the local religion, such as tlitl (fire), ehecatl (wind), atl (water), and tlalli (land).

Therefore, it is important to know how the work that was carried out by the catechists in the first years of Christianity in order to understand the attitudes of Nahuas of today and evaluate their several responses to Christianity and their continuity to their local beliefs until these years. One thing in my favor is that I know this place, as the forest, the roads, towns, and weather, because it is my homeland, where I want to continue working inside the culture of my ancestors.


Jeff at Mayapan

Jeff Bryant, "Sourcing the Otoliths and Shell of Mayapán"

The funds from the DeCormier award will be used by Jeff Bryant to study otoliths (fish ear bones), from the Post classic city of Mayapán as part of his doctoral dissertation at SUNY Albany. Mayapán was the center of power in the Late Postclassic, and although it is located inland, there are substantial marine resources present.  Both shell and Otoliths have annual growth rings which will be analyzed with both microscopic analysis and stable isotopes to determine the season of harvest, the environmental conditions, and the probable locations where the fish were captured.  Jeff has been thin-sectioning otoliths at the New York State Museum for the last couple of years, and has collected reference otoliths in the Yucatan during a previous summer.  To perform an analysis for the fish otoliths and shell from Mayapán, additional modern reference samples will need to be collected in Mexico for comparison.  He will thin use a micro-mill to sample the otoliths and shell at the Union College Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometer Lab. Stable isotope analysis of marine materials from Mayapán and the modern samples from coastal sources offers a way to characterize the trade networks, fishing behavior, environmental conditions, and provide a deeper understanding of the role of Mayapán in the Postclassic world.


First Encounter Scholarship for Mesoamerican Fieldwork

Jamillah Rodriguez

Jamilläh Rodriguez, "Institute on Collaborative Language Research (CoLang)"

Using the First Encounter Scholarship, I will attend the Collaborative Language Research Institute, or CoLang, which is a biannual summer institute for linguists working on the revitalization and documentation of endangered languages. This year it will be held at the University of Florida and the director of the program is Dr. George Aaron Broadwell, a former IMS board member. CoLang features two weeks of workshops detailing various subjects regarding the collection of field data for linguists researching endangered languages, including useful programs and techniques, as well as ethnological workshops and ethical training that is vital for working with indigenous communities. After the first two weeks of workshops, there is a three-week project period collaborating with a native speaker of Macuiltianguis Zapotec (MacZ), a variant of Sierra Juárez Zapotec. MacZ is spoken in Oaxaca, the same region as Copala Triqui. It also belongs to the Otomanguean language family, as does Copala Triqui. There is a strong possibility that there will be linguistic similarities between Copala Triqui and MacZ that I can utilize in my current and projected research on Triqui phonology.

In the past, I have done linguistic research using computational and statistical tools. However, that research focused primarily on Brazilian Portuguese, which is a very well-studied language. My primary goal is to be capable of applying these skills to Copala Triqui, which remains a language in dire need of more resources and documentation. More recently, I have begun work on research with Professor Lauren Clemens on Ch’ol, another Mesoamerican language spoken in Chiapas. All of our field data was collected by a team led by Dr. Clemens, a team which I am joining only after the data was collected. I am responsible for the statistical analysis of the data and learning a lot working with raw data; however, I want to be able to expand my knowledge so that I can be a more adequate field collector for Copala Triqui. I strongly believe that CoLang will give me the tools to begin data collection with Triqui. In addition, I am a current member of the Copala Triqui Working Group here at the university, and I aim to elicit data in a more productive way for both my research and the purposes of our group. Our current project is focused on creating pedagogical materials for speakers who want to become more informed about their native language, with a focus on younger speakers. The area of San Juan Copala where native speakers of Copala Triqui originate is extremely violent and it would be difficult for me to travel there given the current excess of dangerous conditions. However, we have a large community of Triqui speakers here in Albany who are active and eager to learn about their language. On the surface, I long to utilize their linguistic knowledge to create more language tools, but more importantly, I want to be able to use my research in a way that benefits the community in Albany as well as in Oaxaca, as the community is often faced with political struggles and is overlooked.


Holly Neville

Holly Neville, "Archaeologic, Linguistic, and Cultural Immersion in Merida, Yucatan"

The funds from the First Encounter Scholarship will be used by Holly Neville to travel to the Yucatan Peninsula; Merida, in particular. Within these weeks, Holly will immerse herself in Maya history and culture and view hieroglyphic texts firsthand. This research experience will allow her to build her knowledge generated from her master’s thesis on Maya hieroglyphic writing, as she travels to Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán’s archives, visits the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya and the Museo de Antropología e Historia, and travel to various archaeological sites in the region, such as Mayapán, Chichen Itza, and Uxmal. She looks forward to the experience that she will gain from this research trip, as she hopes to establish herself in the area by developing local contacts and improving her language capabilities. Furthermore, this research trip will be indelible to planning her dissertation research in the upcoming years.


David Scotchmer Essay Award

Crystal Sheedy

Crystal Sheedy, "U T’aan Nukuch Máak (Advice of the Elders): An Entrance into Maya Women’s Symbolic World"

In my paper, I attempted to shed light on the discourse genre of u t’aan nukuch máak (UTNM), or dichos in Spanish. This translates as 'sayings' in English. This genre, to my knowledge, has never been fully documented in the academic record. One of my main objectives in this paper was to explain the importance of this genre to my female participants and, utilizing the theoretical insights of Victor Turner (1967; 1969), to provide a symbolic analysis of two selected sayings. Through this, I hoped to reveal the traditional knowledge contained in these UTNM are unique ways of viewing the world for my female participants, in such that through the use of these UTNM they are preserving this knowledge in the face of modernization.


Undergraduate Essay Award in Mesoamerican Studies


Evelyn Cuautle Suarez, A Series of Paintings

My artwork is inspired by two things, my Mexican background and what it’s like living as and being Mexican-American. I’ve spent around one third of my life in Mexico. I was baptized in Oaxaca and started traveling to Mexico every summer since I was 5 years old. I am thankful my parents started sending me to Mexico at a young age because I’ve had the chance to learn what my roots are, where I come from, and what my culture consists of, throughout the years. My pieces “Madre del Barrio” and “Aztec Core” represent big well-known figures that are impactful in Mexico. “Lagartija” represents one of the main animal related icons seen all around Mexico whether it be as sculptures, souvenirs, paintings, toys, etc., other than jaguars, eagles, and snakes. In this specific piece I tried to incorporate a common design Mexicans use on clothing, tablecloths, bags, etc. “Ni de Aqui, Ni de Alla” and “La Sangrienta” were both inspired by my feelings towards being Mexican-American. These paintings show how both of my identities collide. I often feel stuck in the middle and feel as though I am not from either country, but I am from both at the same time. I put a lot of feeling into my paintings in hopes that others feel connected to them and can identify with them in one way or another. I can easily tell you how I feel about things but putting it in the form of art makes everything more powerful. Although I just started being an artist this past December, I have always loved art because I was surrounded by a lot of it in my home. My good friend, Odalys, was the one that popped me out of my bubble and gave me an opportunity to showcase my art in NY Chicanas 2017. Seeing how impactful my work has been and receiving so much support from everyone has motivated me to keep doing art. I am currently working on new stuff, which I will share in the future.

Title of paintings from left to right (top row):

Ni de Aquí, ni de Allá – Neither from Here, Neither from There
Madre del Barrio – Mother of the Neighborhood
La Sangrienta – The Bloody One

Title of paintings from left to right (bottom row):

Lagartija – Lizard
Aztec Core

Ni de Aqui, Ni de Alla - Neither from Here, Neither from ThereMadre del Barrio - Mother of the NeighborhoodLa Sangrienta - The Bloody One

Lagartija - LizardAztec Core

Click here to learn about the 2017 award winners.