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date: 30 September 2020

Summary and Keywords

Launched in 1997, established itself as the leading digital platform for the promotion and dissemination of Mesoamerican scholarship to the widest possible audience. The online arm of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc., a nonprofit pledged to foster increased understanding of ancient Mesoamerican cultures, crosscut disciplinary divisions and facilitated communication between scholars in the United States and those in Latin America. The eight-member Board of Directors and its advisory committee ensured that the foundation would harness the spirit of generosity and creativity that characterized the early days of the Internet for the benefit of a likewise emergent discipline. As the Website developed, FAMSI sought partnerships with and contributions from institutions around the world in order to make educational resources publicly available. The Website hosts a remarkable amount of primary research material, including image databases, contemporary and historical indigenous-language dictionaries, ethnographic videos, maps, and an up-to-date, searchable subject-specific bibliography, all of which are available in both English and Spanish and accessible at no cost to visitors.

Between 1997 and 2006, the Website grew exponentially, but like many of its early counterparts, the site’s utility and navigability ultimately suffered as a result of the rapid development of new software and the obsolescence of existing digital platforms; searches became sluggish and unwieldy. While visitorship remained high for an academic site—over a million unique visitors a year—a 2012 survey indicated that scholars frequented only known parts of the site while novice users spent as little as a few minutes on the site. The global economic crisis of 2008 destabilized FAMSI’s funding, and in 2010 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) assumed stewardship of the foundation as well as the Website. The museum began to maintain and review, ultimately deciding to update and transform the Website into a new platform,, which broadens the scope beyond that of Mesoamerica. FAMSI, with its dedication to research and online collaboration, became the principal resource for the research of ancient American cultures for both a scholarly and general audience beginning in the mid-1990s. Its enduring legacy is the spirit of interdisciplinary and international cooperation and generosity that it fostered.

Keywords: art of the Ancient Americas, FAMSI, Mesoamerica, history of archaeology, digital humanities, digital resources, metadata standards

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