This issue reconstructs the integrated roles of real and symbolic birds and their feathers in ancient and colonial Mesoamerican and trans-Atlantic societies. The contributors—who include biologists, historians, and art historians—combine ethnohistoric methodologies with the physical sciences to analyze pictorial and native-language sources, archival documents, chronicles, feather artworks, and specimens in natural history collections. Contributors explore the semiotics of feathers, highly valued as part of local and imperial economies, in ritual regalia and featherworks. The issue also sheds light on how the shipment of indigenous featherworks and actual birds—both living and stuffed—brought American birds and indigenous knowledge of them into contact with Europe. By foregrounding indigenous knowledge and value systems, the contributors reexamine the significance of birds and feathers in constructions of the natural world, philosophy and religion, society and economics, and artistic practice.
Contributors: Allison Caplan, Martha Few, León García Garagarza, James Maley, John McCormack, Iris Montero Sobrevilla, Lisa Sousa