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Islands in the Lake
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Book description

Now notorious for its aridity and air pollution, Mexico City was once part of a flourishing lake environment. In nearby Xochimilco, Native Americans modified the lakes to fashion a distinctive and remarkably abundant aquatic society, one that provided a degree of ecological autonomy for local residents, enabling them to protect their communities' integrity, maintain their way of life, and preserve many aspects of their cultural heritage. While the area's ecology allowed for a wide array of socioeconomic and cultural continuities during colonial rule, demographic change came to affect the ecological basis of the lakes; pastoralism and new ways of using and modifying the lakes began to make a mark on the watery landscape and on the surrounding communities. In this fascinating study, Conway explores Xochimilco using native-language documents, which serve as a hallmark of this continuity and a means to trace patterns of change.


‘Richard Conway’s extensive and detailed research into Nahuatl-language documents provides a rich portrait of early colonial Mexico but also reveals the distinctiveness of the region. Using the idea of the lakes as contact zones, Conway provides a better and more detailed sense of the transition from conquest to colonialism and the interconnectedness of change. It is a rich tapestry and a superb story.’

Sonya Lipsett-Rivera - Carleton University and author of The Origins of Macho: Men and Masculinities in Colonial Mexico

‘In this fascinating analysis, Richard Conway brings together two strains of recent historiography, environmental history and the New Philology, to provide a groundbreaking study of the Xochimilco region. Using linguistics, Ethnohistory, demography, and ecology, Conway explains the deeper social and political impact the Spanish invaders had on the indigenous community.’

John F. Schwaller - Professor Emeritus, University at Albany, SUNY

‘Richard Conway has written an outstanding ethno/environmental history of the lakeside Nahua altepetl of Xochimilco near Mexico City. The author uses scores of original sources to document the community's survival throughout the long colonial period and beyond. This book is a most valuable contribution to Latin American and Indigenous history.’

Kevin Terraciano - E. Bradford Burns Chair of Latin American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles

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