Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock

Photo of Caroline Dodds Pennock


Lecturer in International History
B.A., M.St., D.Phil. (Oxford)
Aztec; Spanish American and Atlantic history; cultural encounters.


+44 (0)114 22 22579

Jessop West room 2.05

Office hours: Monday 1-3pm (Or by appointment)


I joined Sheffield’s History Department in September 2010. I was educated at Corpus Christi College Oxford, where I read Ancient and Modern History (BA) and then Women’s Studies (MSt) before receiving my D.Phil. in Aztec history in 2004. Having been a temporary lecturer and then Research Fellow in Cambridge, I spent three years at the University of Leicester as a Lecturer in Early Modern History. Teaching is central to my work, and I received university teaching awards from Leicester (2010) and Sheffield (2014), related to my interests in innovative teaching, learning and assessment, particularly in the field of e-learning.

I am keen on communicating history to a broad audience and, as well as pestering people on twitter @carolinepennock, I work occasionally as a popular history writer/blogger, consultant, and ‘talking head’ for TV and radio. As the History Department’s first Digital Media Co-ordinator, I launched and edited the Department’s History Matters blog, which was shortlisted as the ‘top blog’ for History Today’s Digital History Prize 2014.

My first book Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture won the Royal Historical Society's Gladstone Prize for 2008. I am currently working on a new project about indigenous Americans travelling to Europe in the sixteenth century. At a time when immigration could not be more controversial, this work challenges our perceptions of multicultural Europe by revisiting our earliest connections with the Americas.



My research focuses on Aztec and Spanish American history and the Atlantic world, with a particular interest in issues of gender, violence, and cultural exchange.

As part of my research on the Aztecs, I studied the role of ritual violence, exploring how human sacrifice can be a comprehensible part of everyday life and existence. My first book Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture (which came out in paperback in 2011), integrates the study of sacrifice with a reinterpretation of Aztec gender and daily life, and won the Royal Historical Society´s Gladstone Prize for 2008.

I am currently working on a major new ‘Aztecs Abroad’ project studying the neglected history of Native American travellers to Europe. Beginning with indigenous Central and South Americans who travelled to Europe and beyond in the sixteenth century, this research seeks to transform our understanding of transcontinental networks, globalisation and the multicultural roots of modern society. As well as completing articles related to this project, I am also working on articles about ‘Globalising Cosmologies’ (with my colleague Amanda Power) and Aztec ‘Women of Discord’.



Research Supervision

I am keen to supervise research students in Aztec, Spanish American and Atlantic history, particularly those interested in indigenous travellers, gender, violence and the use of early colonial sources. I would also be happy to discuss projects related to cultural exchange, imperial and indigenous histories and Amerindian cultures.

Further information on research opportunities within the department


Full list of publications by Caroline Dodds Pennock


Caroline-Pennock-2 Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008; paperback 2011). [RHS Gladstone Prize 2008]

The history of the Aztecs has been haunted by the spectre of human sacrifice. As bloody priests and brutal warriors, the Aztecs have peopled the pages of history, myth and fiction, their spectacular violence dominating perceptions of their culture and casting a veil over their unique way of life. Reinvesting the Aztecs with a humanity frequently denied to them, and exploring their religious violence as a comprehensible element of life and existence, this book integrates a fresh interpretation of gender with an innovative study of the everyday life of the Aztecs. This was a culture of contradictions and complications, but in amongst the grand ritual we can find the personal and private, the minutiae of life which make the world of these extraordinary people instantly familiar. Despite their violent bloodshed, the Aztecs were a compassionate and expressive people who lived and worked in cooperative gendered partnership.


Journal Articles

'"A Remarkably Patterned Life" Domestic and Public in the Aztec Household City', Gender & History 23.3 (November 2011), pp.528-46. Reprinted in Lin Foxhall and Gabriele Neher, Gender and the City Before Modernity (Blackwell, Oxford, 2013), pp.38-56.

This article argues that the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan should be understood as a "household", a structure which gave powerful significance to binary gendered ideologies at every level of city organisation. Male and female roles were configured around "public" and "domestic" spheres, but these concepts were perceived in a broader and more flexible way than traditional public/private dichotomies suggest and might helpfully be understood in more political terms as distinguishing between exterior/foreign and interior/domestic realms. Building on understandings of parallelism and complementarity, the article demonstrates that gendered pairings, based on distinctive masculine/public and feminine/domestic spheres, mirrored the household not only in social, economic and political contexts, but also in the religious hierarchy, providing space for both male and female power at every level of urban life. Just as a married couple provided the basis to a successful and productive home, so the parallel responsibilities of men and women, structured according to concepts of "household" and mirrored throughout the institutions and activities of the city, were believed to form the foundations of a thriving Aztec city.


'Mass Murder or Religious Homicide?: Rethinking Human Sacrifice and Interpersonal Violence in Aztec Culture' , HSR: Historische Sozialforschung/Historical Social Research 37.3 (2012), pp. 276-302. [Open Access].

The Aztec practice of human sacrifice is one of the most sensationalized and bloody cases of mass killing in history, raising essential questions about cultural definitions, personal perceptions and the interrelationship of different forms of violence. Produced as part of a project on the long-term history of interpersonal and mass violence in Latin America, this article assesses the available sources for human sacrifice rates in pre-colonial Tenochtitlan, and lays the groundwork for a comparative analysis of homicide rates, by estimating the number of victims of human sacrifice. Offering an analysis which addresses key themes and structures in the history of violence, this study attempting to reconcile the frequency of 'official' violence with the apparent unacceptability of interpersonal aggression, and interrogates the sensationalism and cultural sensitivities which have often hindered impartial and empathetic studies of the human sacrifice in Aztec society.


Module Leader - History Workshop, HST120/HST121 (First Year compulsory module)

In the History Workshop you will learn the craft of the historian by working with closely with one of our academics on a particular area of their research while simultaneously developing the skills you’ll need to make the step up to university-level historical study.

Module Leader - Tenochtitlan, City of Blood and Flowers: Aztec Society in the Early Sixteenth Century, HST2028 (Second Year optional module)

Since the devastating arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519, the history of the Aztecs has been haunted by the spectre of human sacrifice. But their unique island-capital was not only a centre for spectacular religious bloodshed, but also a sophisticated metropolis, and home to a very civilized and familiar society of educated individuals and loving families. Attempting to recover the history of this complex indigenous culture, this document option examines life in Tenochtitlan at the time of the Spanish arrival through the records of the remarkable encounter between the Aztecs and Spanish, along with pre-conquest archaeological and visual sources.

Module Leader - Cannibals and Christians: Mexico and Spain, c.1491-1600, HST3120/3121 (Third Year optional module)

In 1521, less than thirty years after the ‘discovery’ of the Americas by Columbus, Hernando Cortés and his famous ‘conquistadors’ brought about the collapse of the huge Aztec empire which dominated Central Mexico. The module looks at this extraordinary clash of cultures and the settlement of Mexico by Spain which followed, putting it in the context of the relationship which developed between Europe and the 'New World' in the sixteenth century. Drawing on a wide range of perspectives, from sailors, conquistadors, priests, historians, explorers, missionaries, administrators, and the indigenous people themselves, we will explore themes such as the cultural and military encounter, its intellectual and cultural impact, trade and exchange, migration, evangelisation and empire. Through discussion of primary and secondary materials students will develop their understanding of the sixteenth-century discovery, conquest and settlement of Central and South America, particularly Mexico, in the period c.1492-1600.

Module Leader - Burying the White Gods: Indigenous People in the Early Modern Colonial World, HST6043 (Postgraduate module)

Since the rise of postcolonialism, scholars have fought to reconstruct the complexity and significance of indigenous communities and to remove them from an imperial framework which casts them as passive victims of historical events. In the early American world, this greater sensitivity to indigenous agendas and actions has led increasingly to meetings between indigenous Americans and Europeans being explained in terms of encounter, negotiation and accommodation, rather than simple conquest. Focusing on colonial Central and South America, this module seeks to illuminate the places and perspectives of indigenous people in colonial history and historiography.

Public Engagement

I am keen on communicating history to a broad audience. As well as giving public lectures and school talks, I have media experience as a historical writer, consultant and ‘talking head’ for TV, radio, websites, publishers and popular magazines. You can find me on twitter @carolinepennock. I have also worked with the educational group Mexicolore, who regularly feature my research on their website.


TV and Radio

I have appeared on TV programmes for broadcasters including the BBC and the Smithsonian Channel and have featured on In Our Time on Radio 4. I have also acted as a historical consultant for several TV projects, including Heroes and Villains: Cortés for the BBC and Mankind: The Story of All of Us for the History Channel.

You can see me talking about early modern Dutch map-making in the BBC’s The Beauty of Maps [at c.0.58 and 2.24] or hear me talking about the siege of Tenochtitlan on In Our Time. I was also interviewed for BBC History Magazine’s podcast about the ‘last Aztec ruler’ Moctezuma [October 2009, Part 2, from 13.55].

My other TV appearances include: Secrets: The Golden Raft of El Dorado and Secrets: A Viking Map?; Ancient Black Ops: Aztec Eagle Warriors; and Masterpieces of the British Museum: The Aztec Double-Headed Serpent:


Popular History Writing

As well as having written articles for BBC History Magazine, I have also consulted on fiction and children’s books.

I blog regularly for History Matters and was also invited to be a guest blogger for Scientific American on ‘The 2012 Apocalypse, or Why the World Won’t End This Week’.

My popular publications include:
‘Cortés and Montezuma’, BBC History Magazine, 8.11 (November 2007), pp.34-8.
‘Moctezuma: Collaborator or victim?’, BBC History Magazine, 10.10 (October 2009), pp.50-1.
‘Fall of the Aztecs: Moctezuma: Collaborator or victim?’, BBC Knowledge Magazine, 2.3 (April 2012), pp. 78-83.
Review: Matthew Restall and Felipe Fernández-Armesto: The Conquistadors: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)’, BBC History Magazine, (June 2012), p. 71.

Professional Roles

Royal Historical Society – Fellow

Transnational Subjects – Editorial Board

Network for Indigenous Mexican Studies (NIMS) - Co-founder and Co-ordinator

Defining The Global Middle Ages Network - Member

American Society for Ethnohistory – Member


University Administrative Roles

I am the Digital Media and Blog Co-ordinator within the Department. 'History Matters' is a departmental blog which highlights cutting-edge research, the history behind the headlines and why we think history really matters. In 2014 it was nominated for History Today’s Digital History Prize.

A collection of my blog posts

All History Matters blog entries (by date)