Martin A Nesvig

Assoc. Professor
Mexico and Mesoamerica Co-Faculty Lead - UMIA

(305) 284-5963
Locator Code:


Born and raised in San Diego, California, Martin Nesvig consumes a steady diet of Mexican exceptionalism.  His research and reading interests derive from his training in early modern Hispanic society and Viceregal Mexico.  Topically he is a religious historian and a historian of the cultural history of politics, especially in 16th century Mexico, Spain and Italy.  He has published widely on the history of religious mentality, the Spanish and Mexican Inquisitions, the trans-Atlantic book trade, censorship and comparative Hispanic empire.  He is author of Ideology and Inquisition: The World of the Censors in Early Mexico (Yale University Press 2009) and editor of three volumes on the religious history of Mexico.  A second monograph, Promiscuous Power, will be published shortly.

Ideology and Inquisition assessed the intellectual and social history of inquisitional censorship in early modern New Spain.  The study challenges the portrayal of the Inquisition as an omnipotent and omniscient apparatus of intellectual terror.  Instead, the book demonstrates the deep ideological and theological divisions within Spanish and Mexican Catholicism which led to a contested application of censorship. 

Nesvig has also edited three books on the history of Mexican religious cultures.  Local Religion in Colonial Mexico (University of New Mexico Press, 2006) and Religious Culture in Modern Mexico (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) examine relationships of religion, politics and society in Mexico.  Both volumes are premised on the idea that religion expresses itself in epistemological ways on the ground level.  A third volume Forgotten Franciscans (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011), offers translation of works by largely ignored Franciscans: Alfonso de Castro, theologian and theorist of Inquisition of Salamanca; Alonso Cabello, Spanish-born friar twice convicted of Erasmian heresy; and Inquisitional deputy and missionary, Diego Muñoz. Their works offer continued consideration of the ideological diversity among early modern Catholics.

Currently, Nesvig is undertaking various projects in various stages of completion.  He recently completed a monograph, Promiscuous Power, which will appear with University of Texas Press in 2018.  It reprises debates about the pretentions of empire and global Catholicism in the context of local politics in Mexico in the 16thcentury.  The book offers a series of mordant and hilarious microhistories of political rivalry in the old province of Michoacán, in western Mexico.  Rather than enforce royal will, agents of the crown (magistrates, parish priests, judges, bishops, missionaries, inquisitional agents) flouted global rule in favor of their own local, particularist interests.  The book reveals an irony of imperial power in which the agents of colonialism exploited the symbols of empire only to frustrate the legal implementation of that global order at the local level.

Currently he is completing a book titled The Xolotl Orgy which examines the ways that ethnic Spaniards who lived in Mexico adapted to their indigenous Mexican cultural contexts.  It examines those Spaniards living in multi-ethnic frontier regions who adopted a wide range of indigenous practices:  worshipping pre-Hispanic deities; consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote; adopting Nahuatl language; eating chiles and drinking pulque; and orchestrating orgies.  The study analyzes the ontological shift from Spanish to a Nahuatlized, creole consciousness.

Nesvig is expanding his research interests to comparative empire, examining the case of Spanish Italy.  His preliminary research has focused on Sicily and Rome, examining the unique political linguistics and civic religions of those regions.  As they developed local dialects of Italian language and as those locales understood their civic identity in relation to broader aspirations—in the case of Rome, in the shadow of the Vatican, and in Palermo, as a presumed vassal state of the Spanish empire—Rome and Palermo created unique sociological argots.

In addition to his four books, he has published extensively in journals such as: Hispanic American Historical ReviewThe AmericasEthnohistoryLatin American Research ReviewMexican Studies/Estudios MexicanosBoletín del Archivo General de la NaciónTzintzun, Church HistoryColonial Latin American Review, and the Journal of Religious and Theological Information

Nesvig is a senior editor for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin America and the general U.S.-Canada coordinator for the XV Reunión Internacional de Historiadores de México (Guadalajara 2018).

Nesvig has received funding for his research from a Charles A. Ryskamp grant from the ACLS and from the Mellon Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

When he is not busy studying Italian language, reading spy or detective novels, or flailing in open-water swim competitions, Nesvig can be found at the beach with a cooler full of beer conducting clandestine participant-observation anthropological research on Miami Beach’s culture.  A lifelong devotee of beach life, he has a secondary interest in beach theory and regularly offers a class on the social history of beaches.  In addition to courses on Latin America in general, he offers classes on the history of the Inquisition, the Mexican Revolution, and anarchist theory.  



2004Ph.D. Yale University

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]