Miriam Melton-Villanueva
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Miriam Melton-Villanueva, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

WRI-A 310


Miriam Melton-Villanueva, a Founding Senior Ford Foundation Fellow and recipient of the 2021 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Yearlong Research Fellowship, received her PhD from UCLA in 2012.

As Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, her research program explores the cultural strategies and status of women and men in Mexico’s indigenous communities. Her elaboration of ethnohistorical methods as a way to bring people’s voices into history, using indigenous archival records, underpins her analysis. Her landmark article about Indigenous Women’s Late Colonial Mexican texts 1703-1832 can be found in Ethnohistory (2018, 65 (2): 297-322). Her first monograph, based on previously unknown, unstudied, and untranslated texts, The Aztecs at Independence: Nahua Culture Makers in Central Mexico 1799-1832 represents the first Ethnohistory of the Mexica/Nahuas to extend beyond the colonial period, a time when written traditions were supposed to have ended. Civic autonomy as expressed in local rotational leadership, written language, and geographically distinct ritual cultures, thrived despite centuries of colonial restrictions. Three of her more recent co-written pieces have appeared: in an international journal of linguistics Lenguas Radicales (2022, 1(3) 31-43); in Journal of American Folklore (2019, 132 (523) 61-73); in Theorizing Folklore from the Margins: Critical and Ethical Approaches with Indiana Press (2021).

In support of her current book manuscript, "Story and Power: Untold Histories of Sonora Mexico’s Folklore Archive of 1975-1976," Melton-Villanueva received the National Endowment for the Humanities Yearlong Research Faculty Fellowship (2021); support which allowed her to analyze field materials - evidence underpinning the book’s historical arguments about gendered and racialized academic labor and recover a knowledge archive of voices of Sonoran elders.

In 2019 Melton-Villanueva received the two highest teaching awards (Nevada System of Higher Education Regents’ Statewide Award for Teaching, and UNLV Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award) and in 2018 received the Award for Outstanding Faculty Undergraduate Research Mentor of the Year, Office of Undergraduate Research, Research and Economic Development and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost. She currently serves as Faculty Development Fellow. Her students participate in field research, use archival materials, reconstruct traditional Mexican civic spaces by creating public art.

Reviews of Aztecs at Independence, now in paperback:

"Power was structured horizontally not hierarchically. Melton-Villanueva leaves us with the lasting impression that this is not just a colonial dinosaur that lasted into independence but also, in fact, a lesson for today’s society."—Ethnohistory

“Melton-Villanueva conveys her narrative in an engaging, no-nonsense, and at times conversational style that makes the book accessible to scholars and students of all levels.”—American Historical Review
“An innovative study that not only illuminates the transition from the colonial to postcolonial periods, but also offers several unique contributions to Colonial Mexican history.”—Bulletin of Latin American Research
“Nicely written, Melton-Villanueva’s book changes the general assumption that writing in Nahuatl ended before 1800.”—Hispanic American Historical Review
“A powerful and unique view of Nahuatl speakers at the time of Independence in Mexico.”—The Americas
“Melton-Villanueva's meticulously researched and highly accessible book, The Aztecs at Independence: Nahua Culture Makers in Central Mexico, takes us down a path we thought to be impossible to trace: a journey toward understanding Nahua life in the 19th century, utilizing sources created by indigenous people themselves.”—UNLV News Center

“Melton-Villanueva’s personal connection to the region allows her to marry archival fieldwork studies while giving living breath to a culture frequently referred to only in past tense. This then creates a historical monograph you actually want to continue reading.”—Mark Z. Christensen, author of Translated Christianities: Nahuatl and Maya Religious Texts

“Astute observations about local Nahua society on the cusp of the colonial and independence periods.”—Kevin Terraciano, author of The Mixtecs of Colonial Oaxaca: Ñudzahui History, Sixteenth Through Eighteenth Centuries

“Melton-Villanueva has explained exactly how these indigenous communities functioned with more detail and nuance than is usually possible... She argues convincingly that the “cellular” organization of the altepetl was in a sense a radical form of direct, participatory democracy.

— Edward W. Osowski, author of Indigenous Miracles: Nahua Authority in Colonial Mexico.

“Melton-Villanueva fundamentally changes the field of Nahuatl studies with her discovery, transcription, translation, and painstaking analysis of more than 150 Nahuatl language testaments that ‘weren’t supposed to exist.’”—Kelly McDonough, author of The Learned Ones

"This carefully researched work shines much-needed light on a crucial period in the social history of Spanish America: the transition from late colonial times to the early republic in indigenous communities in central Mexico. Melton-Villanueva's important contribution comes in three parts: she illuminates the apprenticeship of indigenous notaries, reveals the substrate of Nahua authorial practices in Spanish-language wills, and documents the social and economic history of Nahua women. An eminently thoughtful work.”—David Tavárez, author of The Invisible War: Indigenous Devotions, Discipline, and Dissent in Colonial Mexico