Digital Resources: Mesolore, a History, 1995–2015
- Liza BakewellLiza BakewellExecutive Director, Maine Women Write / Department of Anthropology, Brown University (1993–2013)
- and Byron Ellsworth HamannByron Ellsworth HamannDepartment of History of Art, The Ohio State University
Mesolore: Exploring Mesoamerican Culture is a variously incarnated bilingual resource for teaching and research on indigenous Mesoamerica. The project’s first iteration began in the late 20th century, when its authors developed a CD-ROM/Internet hybrid and released it on two discs in 2001. This version of the project centered on three interactive primary-source Ñudzavui documents from Oaxaca, Mexico: the prehispanic Codex Nuttall, the Codex Selden (c. 1560), and the Mixtec Vocabulario of Francisco de Alvarado (1593). Ten tutorials on Ñudzavui writing and culture, three introductory video lectures, an interdisciplinary gallery of scholarly portraits, four audio debates, and an atlas supported these core materials.
The explosion of broadband Internet at the dawn of the 21st century suddenly made it possible to deliver Mesolore’s high-resolution images and multimedia content online—and simultaneously sounded the death-knell for the CD-ROM as a medium. The second phase of the project therefore worked to gather funding for an online reincarnation and expansion of the project’s core content to include three documents from Nahua Central Mexico: the Matrícula de Tributos (c. 1519), the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (c. 1552), and the Nahua vocabulary of Alonso de Molina (1555). Like their Oaxacan predecessors, these three documents were supported by ten tutorials. Also new for the online relaunch was an archive of hundreds of primary-source alphabetic documents transcribed from physical archives in Mexico, Spain, and the United States. In addition the authors and designers redesigned Mesolore’s atlas to allow for better comparison of the geographic scope of the four core pictorial primary sources (the Nuttall, the Selden, the Matrícula, and the Lienzo). After much drama involving funding agencies, incompetent designers, and incompetent programmers, mesolore.org went live late in 2012, just in time for the non-Apocalypse on December 21.
Although Mesolore’s creators now focus on print publications delivered on paper, their efforts to offer democratically accessible, multidisciplinary pedagogical and research materials to any and all users, as well as translate three-dimensional painted manuscripts into the light of computer screens, generated productive inquiry. Furthermore the detailed interpretations of text offered from the outset insights into how those documents communicated visual information at various scales, as well as how the differing scales of their geographical representations connected to 16th-century political claims.