Harriet Smart

Title: Choreography, Flexibility and Conformity in Postclassic Nahua Rituals
Period: Pre 1500 / 1500-1800
Funded by: University of Sheffield Studentship
Start year: 2014
Awarded: 2019

Primary: Dr Caroline Dodds Pennock | Secondary: Professor Phil Withington


Academic background

  • M.A. Historical Research, University of Sheffield, 2014
  • Dissertation Title: Constructing the Aztec Warrior: Birth to Battlefield
  • B.A. (Hons.) Hispanic, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, University of Bristol, 2011

Research topic

My project examines ritual practice within and across the geographical location we know as the Aztec empire, during the period 1430 to 1519, when a group called the Mexica held sway over this vast territory.

The existing historiography has taken the practices of the Mexica’s imperial capital, Tenochtitlan, as representative of an 'Aztec religion', at the expense of an integrated and comparative analysis of core and periphery. The potential complex diversity of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican ritual tradition has therefore not been explored systematically or in any depth. My project therefore aims to shed light on the potential variation of ritual practice across geographical location and social groups.

I am also interested in how rituals are used to convey political messages. My project therefore examines the imperial dimension and external influences of Mexica public ritual. In what way can the Mexica have used ritual performance as a method for imperial domination? How were the official religious customs received in subject and allied cities, and in the non-elite domestic spaces of the capital? And, was the reception of rituals away from the capital even a preoccupation of the Mexica elite?

The aim is to piece together a more thorough and representative analysis of religious practice in Mesoamerica under Aztec rule. In this way, this research will challenge existing literature which is based on the assumption that the practices of Tenochtitlan were 'the Aztec religion'.


Conference papers

  • '"Readers of days" and pre-Hispanic Nahua private ritual', Indigenous Languages and Cultures: Then and Now (Sheffield University, September 2016)
  • 'The "Readers of Days": Soothsayers and Private Ritual in pre-Hispanic Nahua Culture', Native Studies Research Network International Conference (University of East Anglia, July 2016)
  • 'Exploring pre-Hispanic Aztec Religion through Early Colonial Texts', WRoCAH Wider World History Network Colloquium (Sheffield University, May 2015)
  • 'Xiuhmolpilli, the Aztec New Fire Ceremony: an Imperial Ritual?': Native Studies Research Network Colloquium (University College London, September 2015)

Book reviews

  • John M. D. Pohl and Claire L. Lyons (eds), Altera Roma: Art and Empire from Mérida to Mexico (Los Angeles, 2016) for Journal of Latin American Studies (May, 2017)
  • Diana Magaloni Kerpel, The Colors of the New World: Artists, Materials, and the Creation of the Florentine Codex (Los Angeles, 2014) for Sixteenth Century Journal (Winter, 2015)
Public Engagement

Public engagement

  • Intensive Nahuatl Summer Program (Yale University, Summer 2015)
  • Blog on History Matters: 'Aztec Religion is not just Human Sacrifice'; JK Rowling's Ilvermorny – A School In Need Of A History Lesson?'; On 'Indigenous Languages And Cultures: Then And Now' available here.

Conferences organised

  • Two-day international conference: 'Indigenous Languages and Cultures: Then and Now' in collaboration with the Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, Mexico
    Funded by a Santander Research Mobility Award, the Department of History and the Global Opportunities Office at the University of Sheffield. You can read more about the conference here.


History Department Postgraduate Social Secretary

Affiliations and Awards

Professional Affiliations

  • Member of the Society for Latin American Studies (SLAS)
  • Member of Postgraduates in Latin American Studies (PILAS)