Speakers: Jeanne Gillespie (University of Southern Mississippi) and Nicolle Jordan (University of Southern Mississippi)

“Aztec Gardens: Representations of Political Power, Innovation, and Technology” offers one among many possible iterations of how horticultural knowledge functions as a form of agency. The vassals beholden to the Triple Alliance (i.e., the Aztec Empire) marshalled remarkable horticultural ingenuity when facing increasingly daunting demands for tribute. The floating gardens and tropical transplants of this culture attest to the skill and innovation that helped the Aztecs construct a socially and politically robust society whose population peaked at over three million people. The agricultural sophistication required to feed these numbers emerged from the pressures of tribute. Water management also proves a uniquely important component of this society, and so the article traces an Aztec cosmology that imbues all things—including water—with divinity. In such a system, even filth and ordure contribute to a divine cosmos that seeks balance and treats rot, decay, and its corollaries as manifestations of imbalance. On the other end of the spectrum of ways to treat horticulture as a means to an end, Aztec rulers such as Netzahualcoyotl and Moctecuzoma I—unlike Antebellum enslaved peoples—commanded vast populations to do their bidding. Gillespie and I suggest that although these ethnically diverse groups of people were beholden to Aztec rulers, we do not have adequate historical records to determine whether they experienced their labor as exploitation. Thus, although it may be tempting to assume that they were united in the consciousness of their subjugated status, we avoid conflating an array of political and social arrangements that hinge on an empowerment /subordination binary. The subtleties of Aztec social structure—and of the various forms of subjectivity it generated—disappear when we impose concepts such as ‘the Global South’ onto circumstances so chronologically distant from our own time. Thus, one of the insights to emerge from this analysis is an awareness of how crucial globalization has been in effecting the realignment of the international community into conceptual—but not always geographical—Norths and Souths.

Jeanne Gillespie teaches courses at all levels of Spanish language and cultures and Native topics at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she is also the co-director of the Center for American Indian Research and Studies (CAIRS). One recent publication include a re-examination of the Tlaxcalan participation in the defeat of Tenochtitlan entitled “Santos y guerreros: los relatos tlaxcaltecas de la conquista de Tenochtitlan" in De conquistados a conquistadores. La raíz mesoamericana del virreinato de la Nueva España. Una nueva mirada.(Salafranca, expected November 2022). Current research includes the role of healing botanicals in the poetics of the performance narratives of the Flowery Wars, and the personification of ritual gardening and healing implements for medicinal purposes and sustenance.

Nicolle Jordan is an Associate Professor of British Literature at the University of Southern Mississippi. She teaches and writes about British literature and culture of the long eighteenth-century, with a particular focus on landscape and women’s writing. She has published articles on Anne Finch, Jane Barker, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Elizabeth Montagu, Sarah Scott, and Maria Graham. Her manuscript-in-progress is entitled “Prolific Ground: Landscape in Eighteenth-Century British Women’s Writing, 1690-1780.” In her spare time she enjoys—of course!—gardening and spending time in New Orleans and in Cajun Country around Lafayette, Louisiana.

IHR Seminar SeriesHistory of Gardens and Landscapes