From Idols to Antiquity


From Idols to Antiquity

Forging the National Museum of Mexico

Miruna Achim

The Mexican Experience Series

348 pages
22 illustrations, index


December 2017


$60.00 Add to Cart

December 2017


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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December 2017


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2017


$30.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

From Idols to Antiquity explores the origins and tumultuous development of the National Museum of Mexico and the complicated histories of Mexican antiquities during the first half of the nineteenth century. Following independence from Spain, the National Museum of Mexico was founded in 1825 by presidential decree. Nationhood meant cultural as well as political independence, and the museum was expected to become a repository of national objects whose stories would provide the nation with an identity and teach its people to become citizens.

Miruna Achim reconstructs the early years of the museum as an emerging object shaped by the logic and goals of historical actors who soon found themselves debating the origin of American civilizations, the nature of the American races, and the rightful ownership of antiquities. Achim also brings to life an array of fascinating characters—antiquarians, naturalists, artists, commercial agents, bureaucrats, diplomats, priests, customs officers, local guides, and academics on both sides of the Atlantic—who make visible the rifts and tensions intrinsic to the making of the Mexican nation and its cultural politics in the country’s postcolonial era.

Author Bio

Miruna Achim is a professor of humanities at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana–Cuajimalpa in Mexico City. She is the author of several books on science history in Spanish and coauthor of Death and Dying in Colonial Spanish America with Martina Will de Chaparro.


"This significant new study by Achim . . . analyzes the early history of the National Museum of Mexico, extending understanding of how Mexico centralized its role in debates about the development of precontact American civilizations. Achim is particularly good at analyzing how the underfunded museum was a place of active object transactions, not simply a government-supported institution that demonstrated to other nations that the modernity of a recently independent Mexico was a marker of its international status."—N. J. Parezo, Choice

"From Idols to Antiquity: Forging the National Museum of Mexico is a valuable addition. . . . Achim provides an engrossing account of the conflicted and contingent process through which the National Museum's early curators laid the foundations of what would evolve into one of the world's foremost museums."—Seonaid Valiant, Hispanic American Historical Review

“A riveting read. Based on meticulous research and full of astute observations, this study interrogates the uncertain and fragile beginnings of one of the world’s most acclaimed museums. Miruna Achim addresses fundamental questions focused on the construction of cultural and political authority and legitimacy. It is an extraordinary achievement.”—Susan Deans-Smith, author of Bureaucrats, Planters, and Workers: The Making of the Tobacco Monopoly in Bourbon Mexico

“A truly outstanding contribution to the field that engages with the institution’s complex and multilayered dimensions, facets, interactions, and relations by weaving a fascinating tapestry encompassing both the private and the public. This is a rigorously researched piece of scholarship of the highest caliber.”—Will Fowler, author of Independent Mexico: The “Pronunciamiento” in the Age of Santa Anna, 1821–1858

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Uses of a National Museum
1. Genealogies
2. Measures of Worth
3. Collecting the Ruins of Palenque
4. Modes of Display
5. José Fernando Ramírez, Keeper of the Archive
6. Whose Museum?
Epilogue: The Invention of Mexican Antiquities

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