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In world history early modernity is a contested category. However, it is commonly accepted that the period from about 1500 to 1800 is a distinct period, bookended by two significant periods of violence. The pattern of long-distance travel that was a feature of the fifteenth century ushered in a period of imperial conquest. The lives of millions of people across the globe were fundamentally transformed between 1500 and 1800 by mass violence, a consequence of European colonisation and enslavement. At the end of this time the Atlantic Revolutions violently overthrow the old order. But early modernity is not simply a period of time. In the period from 1500 to 1800 the problem of violence necessitated asking fundamental questions and formulating answers about the most basic forms of human organisation and interactions, such as the problem of civility in society, the nature of political sovereignty and the power of the state, the legitimacy of conquest and subjugation, the possibilities of popular resistance, and the manifestations of ethnic and racial unrest. Violence also provided the raw material for profound meditations on humanity and for examining our relationship to the divine and natural worlds.
In the period from 1500 to 1800 the problem of violence necessitated asking fundamental questions and formulating answers about the most basic forms of human organisation and interactions. Violence spoke to critical issues such as the problem of civility in society, the nature of political sovereignty and the power of the state, the legitimacy of conquest and subjugation, the possibilities of popular resistance, and the manifestations of ethnic and racial unrest. It also provided the raw material for profound meditations on humanity and for examining our relationship to the divine and natural worlds. The third volume of The Cambridge World History of Violence examines a world in which global empires were consolidated and expanded, and in which civilisations for the first time linked to each other by trans-oceanic contacts and a sophisticated world trade system.
This article addresses the perennial debate over the origins and nature of female power by examining the significance of ‘Women of Discord’ in Aztec (more properly, Mexica) culture. Influential, but often troublesome, these formidable figures embody the complex significance of female power, rooted in women's privileged access to the awesome earth forces through childbirth. This chaotic energy lent cosmological and dynastic significance to the mytho-historical Women of Discord, but also led to a persistent female association with disorder which had tangible (and often overlooked) consequences for the lives of ‘real’ women in Aztec culture. This article explores the ways in which beliefs about the female capacity for disruption both reflected and shaped reality, ensnaring all women in a cycle of myth and history which made femininity a source of both authority and apprehension. Importantly, in Tenochtitlan ideas about ‘disorderly women’ did not lead inevitably to their practical subordination or suppression; women held practical markers of influence and esteem in Aztec culture. Thus, the Women of Discord challenge our assumptions about gender by offering a distinctive perspective on the ways in which femininity and fertility may be seen as disruptive, without necessarily debasing women or depriving them of individual agency.