Marvin S. Cohodas

PhD (Columbia)

My interests encompass both ancient American visual representation (i.e. ‘Pre-Hispanic Art’), contemporary ritual and weaving arts of Maya peoples in Southern Mexico and Guatemala, and Native American basket weaving in California and Nevada.

Research on late 19th and early 20th century weaving for the curio trade has resulted in a book on two Northern California basket weavers, Elizabeth and Louise Hickox. I am also an exhibited basket weaver.

In my research on Classic Maya representation, I have shifted from reconstruction of ritual symbolism (as with the “ball game”) to a concern with households as the sites where visually enhanced objects enter into negotiations of social relationships differentiated in status by age, gender, and descent. Rather than assuming a single world view shared by all members of this society, I look at Ancient Maya visual representations as comprising a series of competing discourses associated with different media, social groups, and institutions. I am particularly concerned with understanding the objects made and/or used by Maya women and children, two groups that have generally been ignored in culture-historical constructions of kings and conquests.

I am also engaged in a study of popular representations of the Ancient Maya, especially in magazines and television documentaries. This project arises from concerns with the impact of knowledge produced about ancient Maya peoples on the ways in which contemporary Maya are seen by the national governments of Mexico and Central America and by foreign (particularly United States) political and economic interests in the region. Collaboration with members of the refugee Maya community in Greater Vancouver has taught me about taking responsibility for that potential impact.

My current research project concerns the “Dance of the Conquest” ( in Guatemala, a ritual dance-drama with masks and costumes that may be nearly 500 years old and in some communities is presented annually for the festival of the patron saint. I am interested in: the history of the dance, its theatrical, musical, dramatic and visual aspects; its use as a ritual offering; and its potential for expression of resistance towards the dominant non-Maya majority in Guatemala.

I offer courses at all levels from introductory to intensive. These include co-teaching the first-year introductory courses on Latin American studies (LAST 100) and Introduction to Art History (ARTH 100), a second-year survey of Ancient American visual representation (FINA 261), two alternating third-year courses on Mexican and Maya arts as well as undergraduate and graduate seminars.

Video excerpts from the Baile de la Conquista at San Cristóbal Totonicapán on youtube:
Link 1    Link 2

Dance of the Conquest

Towards a More Ethical Mayanist Archaeology