Martin Nesvig


Ph.D., Yale University (2004); 

Office: Rm. 615 Ashe
Phone: (305) 284-5965
Fields of Interest: Latin America, colonial Mexico, comparative Hispanic empire, Inquisition, Spanish Italy


Born and raised in San Diego, California, Martin Nesvig is fed on a steady diet of Mexican exceptionalism.  His research and reading interests derive from his training in early modern Hispanic society and viceregal Mexico.  Topically he is a religious historian and a historian of the cultural history of politics, especially in 16th century Mexico, Spain and Italy.  He has published widely on the history of religious mentality, the Spanish and Mexican Inquisitions, the trans-Atlantic book trade, censorship and comparative Hispanic empire.  He is author of Ideology and Inquisition: The World of the Censors in Early Mexico (Yale University Press 2009) and editor of three volumes on the religious history of Mexico.

His first project assessed the intellectual and social history of inquisitional censorship in early modern New Spain.  The resulting study, Ideology and Inquisition, challenges the portrayal of the Inquisition as an omnipotent and omniscient apparatus of intellectual terror.  Instead, the book demonstrates the deep ideological and theological divisions within Spanish and Mexican Catholicism which led to a contested application of censorship.  The study, in turn, examines the social milieu of the censors as they struggled to adapt the universalism of Hispanic Catholicism to the cultural context of colonial Mexico.

Nesvig has also edited three books on the history of Mexican religious sociology.  Local Religion in Colonial Mexico (University of New Mexico Press, 2006) and Religious Culture in Modern Mexico (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) examine relationships of religion, politics and society in Mexico.  Both volumes are premised on the idea that religion expresses itself in fundamental epistemological ways on the ground level.  A third volume Forgotten Franciscans (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2011), offers translation of works by largely ignored Franciscans: Alfonso de Castro, theologian and theorist of Inquisition of Salamanca; Alonso Cabello, Spanish-born friar twice convicted of Erasmian heresy; and Inquisitional deputy and missionary, Diego Muñoz. Their works offer continued consideration of the ideological diversity among early modern Catholics.

Currently, Nesvig is undertaking various projects in various stages of completion.  A complete monograph (under peer review), The Promiscuity of Power, reprises debates about the pretentions of empire and global Catholicism in the context of local politics in Mexico in the 16th century.  The book offers a series of mordant and hilarious microhistories of political rivalry in the old province of Michoacán, in wester Mexico.  Rather than enforce royal will, agents of the crown (magistrates, parish priests, judges, bishops, missionaries, inquisitional agents) flouted global rule in favor of their own local, particularist interests.  This study takes up the issue of what social theorists call the “tyranny of small differences”.  The book reveals an irony of imperial power in which the agents of colonialism exploited the symbols of empire only to frustrate the legal implementation of that global order at the local level.

A second book, The Xolotl Orgy, examines the ways that ethnic Spaniards who lived in Mexico adapted to their indigenous Mexican cultural contexts.  It examines those Spaniards living in multi-ethnic frontier regions who adopted a wide range of indigenous practices:  worshipping pre-Hispanic deities; consuming hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote; speaking Nahuatl; and eating chile and drinking pulque.  The study offers a consideration of the ontological shift from Spanish to a Nahuatlized, creole consciousness.

Nesvig is expanding his research interests to comparative empire, examining the case of Spanish Italy.  His preliminary research has focused on Sicily and Rome, examining the unique political linguistics and civic religions of those regions.  As they developed local dialects of Italian language and as those locales understood their civic identity in relation to broader aspirations—in the case of Rome, in the shadow of the Vatican, and in Palermo, as a presumed vassal state of the Spanish empire—Rome and Palermo created unique sociological argots.

In addition to his four books, he has published extensively in journals such as: Hispanic American Historical ReviewThe AmericasEthnohistoryLatin American Research ReviewMexican Studies/Estudios MexicanosBoletín del Archivo General de la NaciónChurch HistoryColonial Latin American Review, and the Journal of Religious and Theological Information

Nesvig is a senior editor for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Latin America and as the general U.S.-Canada coordinator for Reunión Internacional de Historiadores de México.

Nesvig has received funding for his research from a Ryskamp grant from the ACLS and from the Mellon Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

When he is not busy studying Italian and Sicilian language or reading spy or detective novels or flailing in open-water swim competitions, Nesvig can be found at the beach.  A lifelong devotee of beach life and culture, he has a secondary interest in beach theory and regularly offers a class on the social history of beaches.  In addition to courses on Latin America in general, he offers classes on the history of the Inquisition, the Mexican Revolution, and anarchist theory.  


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