From Tarascan Empire to Craft Production: A longitudinal research web-site (Tzintzuntzan, Mexico)

Santa Fe Institute Mirror Site
Robert V. Kemper, Eric Widmer, Douglas R. White.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 9978282.

The Tzintzuntzan documentation file provides an inventory of the available types of data for computerized ethnographic census, network, longitudinal and historical archive studies. In the early colonial period, Tzintzuntzan was involved in a utopian project of Spanish lawyer and Francescan priest Vasco de Quiroga whose plan, implemented with outstanding success after the predations of Nuño Beltrán de Guzman, was to create communities and schools, including universities and trade schools, in the vicinity of Lake Pátzcuaro, the heart of the Tarascan country, where Indians would not only receive religious instruction, but also in arts and crafts and in the fundamentals of self-government.

Today, in Michoacan, at least 40,000 families live from what they make by hand. But they are heavily dependent on pass-through tourist sales. All it took to cripple a village was for the federal government to build a highway around the town. This happened to Tzintzuntzan some years ago and its ceramics industry lost much of its vitality. More than half the village's residents now live in Mexico City, Santa Ana, or Tacoma.

Our project concerns the village of Tzintzuntzan (Michoacan, Mexico), former capital of the Tarascan Empire, heartland of the Tarascans or Purepecha (see Garfias), and traditional enemies of the Aztec. Tzintzuntzan has been an exemplary case study in American ethnography. Initiated by George M. Foster in the forties (Foster, 1948), Tzintzuntzan has attracted eminent anthropological scholarship (see works by George M. Foster, Robert V. Kemper, and Stanley Brandes). These scholars have proposed a comprehensive analysis of Tzintzuntzan belief system, mores and production system (for a review, see Clark, Kemper, Nelson, 1979). Kemper offers an extension to Tzintzuntzan migrants in Mexico City (1977).

The demographic analysis done so far on Tzintzuntzan mostly concerns household composition (Foster, 1948; Brandes, 1979) and migration dynamics (Kemper, 1977, 1995), in addition to basic information on mortality and fertility rates at several points in time during the 20th century. Family relationships were also studied (Nelson, 1971), with a special focus on the "compadrazgo system" (Foster, 1969; Kemper, 1977, 1982).

Tzintzuntzan data offer a unique opportunity to connect demography with quantitative anthropology.  With support from the Mellon Foundation, program in Anthropology and Demography, we are going to measure how much Tzintzuntzan kinship networks (consanguinity, affinity, and structural characteristics of families and individuals) can account for demographic processes such as fertility, migration, household formation and other significant social processes such as social stratification.

In our current network study, we test the hypothesis that kinship has had a tremendous influence on population dynamics in developing countries. Structural endogamy, that is pattern of recurrent matrimonial alliances between specific families, is hypothesized to deeply influence landholding (Brudner & White, 1997), a resource of extreme importance in rural Mexico (Nelson, 1971). Landholding in rural Mexico has been shown to be associated with migration and can be hypothesized to have an impact on nuptiality and fertility. Therefore our project aims to draw and draw upon a structural analysis of the kinship network of Tzintzuntzan area. It intends then to locate people or couples in this network, and to correlate their position with possession of land, marriage practices (age at marriage), fertility and migration strategies. Pseudo-kinship relationships (compadrazgo) will be included. Effects on the kinship network of political, cultural and economical changes (during the two century period of time considered in this project) are to be addressed. In order to deal with this research agenda, advanced methods for the analysis of marriage and kinship networks are currently developed at the University of California, Irvine (White, 1997a; White, 1997b). Prior applications of these methods on European historical data have offered promising results (for instance, Brudner & White, 1997).

preliminary results

Back to the top Foster bibliography

Foster bibliography 1980-89


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