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 am currently writing a trade book about the Indigenous Americans who ‘discovered’ Europe in the sixteenth century, bringing these fascinating, and often-forgotten, stories to a wider audience.
As well as pestering people on twitter @carolinepennock, I also 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 often 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 writing a book about the often-forgotten stories of the Indigenous Americans who 'discovered' 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.
I am probably best known as the only Aztec historian in the UK, and my research focuses on indigenous 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 study 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 book, tentatively entitled On Savage Shores, studying the neglected history of Indigenous American travellers to Europe before the founding of Jamestown. 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.
Pursuing my wider interest in global history, I have also recently completed an article about 'Globalising Cosmologies' (with my colleague Amanda Power) and am working on several international collaborations, including a project Premodern Religions and War in Comparative Perspective, and am one of the editors of the new CUP World History of Violence.
I am keen to supervise research students in indigenous American (particularly Mexican), Spanish American, colonial and Atlantic history, particularly those interested in indigenous travellers, gender, violence and early colonial sources. I would also be happy to discuss projects related to cultural exchange, imperial and indigenous histories and Amerindian cultures.
- Harriet Smart - Choreography, Flexibility and Conformity in Postclassic Nahua Rituals.
All current students by supervisor | PhD study in History
|Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008; paperback 2011). [RHS Gladstone Prize 2008]
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.
|Co-authored with Amanda Power, 'Globalising Cosmologies', Past & Present, vol. 238 Annual Supplement 13: The Global Middle Ages, ed. Catherine Holmes and Naomi Standen (2018), pp. 88-115.
Co-authored with Amanda Power, 'Globalising Cosmologies', Past & Present, vol. 238 Annual Supplement 13: The Global Middle Ages, ed. Catherine Holmes and Naomi Standen (2018), pp. 88-115, https://doi.org/10.1093/pastj/gty032.
|'Women of Discord: Female Power in Aztec Thought', The Historical Journal, 61.2 (2018), pp. 275-99.
'Women of Discord: Female Power in Aztec Thought', The Historical Journal, 61.2 (2018), pp. 275-99, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X17000474
This article addresses the perennial debate over the origins and nature of female power by examining the significance of 'Women of Discord' in Aztec (more properly, Mexica) culture. Influential, but often troublesome, these formidable figures embody the complex significance of female power, rooted in women's privileged access to the awesome earth forces through childbirth. This chaotic energy lent cosmological and dynastic significance to the mytho-historical Women of Discord, but also led to a persistent female association with disorder which had tangible (and often overlooked) consequences for the lives of 'real' women in Aztec culture. This article explores the ways in which beliefs about the female capacity for disruption both reflected and shaped reality, ensnaring all women in a cycle of myth and history which made femininity a source of both authority and apprehension. Importantly, in Tenochtitlan ideas about 'disorderly women' did not lead inevitably to their practical subordination or suppression; women held practical markers of influence and esteem in Aztec culture. Thus, the Women of Discord challenge our assumptions about gender by offering a distinctive perspective on the ways in which femininity and fertility may be seen as disruptive, without necessarily debasing women or depriving them of individual agency.
|'"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.
'"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].
'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.
|Tenochtitlan, City of Blood and Flowers: Aztec Society in the Early Sixteenth Century, HST2028 (Second Year optional module)
Tenochtitlan, City of Blood and Flowers: Aztec Society in the Early Sixteenth Century, HST2028
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.
|Understanding the Aztecs: Life and Death in Early Sixteenth-Century Mexico, HST2502 (Second Year optional module)
Understanding the Aztecs: Life and Death in Early Sixteenth-Century Mexico, HST2502
Since the devastating arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1519, 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. But the Aztecs' island-capital of Tenochtitlan was not only a centre for ritual sacrifice, but also a sophisticated metropolis, home to a civilised society of highly educated individuals and close loving families. This module attempts to recover the complex and sometimes contradictory reality of the Aztec world by studying life in Tenochtitlan on the eve of the Spanish conquest. Central to the module will be the attempt to contextualize the role of human sacrifice and understand how the Aztecs were able to remain a very human and recognizable society, whilst living amongst so much violent bloodshed.
|Cannibals and Christians: Mexico and Spain, c.1492-1600, HST3120/3121 (Third Year optional module)
Cannibals and Christians: Mexico and Spain, c.1492-1600, HST3120/3121
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.
|Burying the White Gods: Indigenous People in the Early Modern Colonial World, HST6043 (Postgraduate module)
Burying the White Gods: Indigenous People in the Early Modern Colonial World, HST6043
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.
I am keen on communicating history to a broad audience, and am currently writing a major new trade book for W&N and Pantheon. 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. I have also worked with the educational group Mexicolore, who regularly feature my research on their website.
You can find me on twitter @carolinepennock.
Popular History Writing
I was recently put 'On the Spot' by History Today, and as well as having written articles for popular publications such as 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.
- 'In Search of the Real Aztecs', BBC World Histories Magazine (November 2017), pp.40-47
A collection of my blog posts
All History Matters blog entries (by date)
Current Administrative Duties
On research leave in Semester 2 of 2019/20.