Martin A Nesvig

Mexico and Mesoamerica Co-Faculty Lead - UMIA

(305) 284-5963
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Martin Nesvig was born and raised in San Diego and has now spent a third of his life in Miami Beach.  A steady diet of Mexican exceptionalism nutrifies his daily life.  Trained as a Latin Americanist, his interests lie principally in the analysis of formal political, ideological, or religious systems and the ways that everyday people re-interpreted those systems through their lived behavior.  Such interests have carried him in analyses of early modern Catholic thought; the Inquisition and its apparatus of censorship; and the presumed conquest of Mexico and the ways that agents of the Spanish Empire acted in self-interests, often to the detriment of colonial expansion and rule. 

His most recent book was Promiscuous Power: An Unorthodox History of New Spain (University of Texas Press, 2018), which examines the colonialization of Michoacán in western Mexico.  Described by reviewers as "a hilariously offensive study of rude settlers" in colonial Mexico and as "aptly Rabelaisian, dense, and intellectually rigorous," the study turns certain assumptions upside down.  For example, it shows that agents of church and state were anything but united in implementing imperial rule, instead engaging in factional wars.  One partisan burned down a monastery; another tried to murder the judge sent to arrest him.  The stories are an avalanche of contempt for centralized authority.  Local fiefdoms instead ruled western Mexico. The book received honorable mention for the 2020 Howard F. Cline Prize from the Latin American Studies Association for "the author of an outstanding book of major importance to the development of the field of Mexican history, published in English or Spanish."  It also received honorable mention for the 2019 Bandelier-Lavrin Prize (best book in colonial history, Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies) and honorable mention for the 2019 Alfred B. Thomas Award (best book, Southeast Council for Latin American Studies).

His previous studies examined the relationship between formal Catholic thought and everyday culture and ideas in colonial Mexico.  His first monograph, Ideology and Inquisition (Yale University Press, 2009) analyzed censorship by the Mexican Inquisition in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  While recent scholarship has debunked the image of the Inquisition as an all-seeing force, this book studied the ways that inquisitional censorship was practiced.  The conservatism of the fashioners of the Index of Prohibited Books clashed notably with the educated laity as well as with the unlettered.  Even the censors tasked with enforcing censorship were divided in their views of what was "dangerous" literature.  And despite the prohibitions, many illegal books—especially Bibles in Spanish and works by Erasmus—circulated widely and freely in colonial Mexico.  He has also published three volumes on the religious history of Mexico, including one book, Forgotten Franciscans (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011) that offers first-time English translations of a Latin treatise by an inquisitional theorist, Alfonso de Castro, which defended the education and ordination of indigenous peoples.

Currently, Nesvig is working on two projects.  First is a monograph in progress titled The Xolotl Orgy, a sort of anti-ethnohistory.  Traditional ethnohistory has focused on the ways and means by which indigenous groups and peoples resisted and adapted to Spanish colonial rule.  By contrast, The Xolotl Orgy analyzes the processes whereby indigenous customs, languages, rituals, and cosmologies influenced non-indigenous peoples such as Spaniards, mestizos, mulattos and peoples of African origin.  The book's title (inspired by Robert Darnton's The Great Cat Massacre) stems from the biography of a Spanish man who became Nahuatlized and was a ringleader of an underground cult to Xolotl, a Mesoamerican trickster deity.  The book will pay particular attention to the history of hallucinogen use—of peyote and magic (Psylocybin) mushrooms—in colonial Mexico.  By the 1650s, for example, peyote use was associated with the Virgin of Guadalupe, suggesting deep associations of hallucinogens and spiritual practices.  A second, early-stage project will examine the hundreds of micro rebellions by indigenous peoples in 16th and 17th centuries in western Mexico.  The end goal of the project is both scholarly and public: an ongoing digital mapping project which shows location, activity, participants, geography, and languages of the groups. 

Nesvig's research has been supported by the American Council for Learned Societies (Charles A. Ryskamp Award), the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, the University of Miami's Provost Awards, the College of Arts and Sciences Dean's office, and University of Miami's Center for the Humanities.

Nesvig enjoys teaching a wide range of classes at the University of Miami.  He offers classes on colonial Latin America, comparative Spanish Empire, and the Mexican Revolution (in a course titled Guns and Tortillas).  He also offers thematic courses: on the history of homoeroticism (gay+bisexual men from antiquity to today), Hawai'i and surfing, FloridaMan, and the social history of beaches.  A lifelong adept of coastal culture, he lives in Miami Beach where he spends free time swimming, walking an inquisitive Welsh terrier, and as an anthropologist manqué studying the migratory patterns of porn stars and supermodels. 



2004Ph.D. , Yale University

LIST OF SPECIALTIES: Latin America, colonial Mexico, comparative Hispanic empire, Inquisition, Spanish Italy

LIST OF SPECIALTIES: Latin America, colonial Mexico, comparative Hispanic empire, Inquisition, Spanish Italy

Professional Experience

- Senior editor , Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin America
- General U.S.-Canada coordinator , XV Reunión Internacional de Historiadores de México

LIST OF SPECIALTIES: Latin America, colonial Mexico, comparative Hispanic empire, Inquisition, Spanish Italy


Martin Austin Nesvig Forgotten Franciscans: Works from an Inquisitional Theorist, a Heretic, and an Inquisitional Deputy (Penn State University Press. ). [Link]

Martin Nesvig Ideology and Inquisition: The World of the Censors in Early Mexico (Yale University Press. 2009).

Martin Austin Nesvig Local Religion in Colonial Mexico (University of New Mexico Press. May 2006). [Link]

Martin Austin Nesvig Promiscuous Power: An Unorthodox History of New Spain (University of Texas Press. July 2018). [Link]