Memories of the Maya: National Histories, Cultural Identities, and Academic Orthodoxy


  • Kathryn M. Hudson University at Buffalo
  • John S. Henderson Cornell University


United States, Honduras, Maya, archaeological sites, indigenous people, identity discourses, memory


John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood’s travel accounts celebrating ancient Maya sculpture and architecture set the stage for the emphasis of the Maya as the pinnacle of cultural development in Mexico and Central America and for the appropriation of Maya prehistory as the foundation of modern national histories and identities. In the twentieth century, these discourses intensified into two interconnected hegemonic narratives – one in syntheses of precolumbian history by North American archaeologists and the other in national histories produced in Central America – that privileged the Maya as a source of history, legitimacy, and identity. This paper explores these narratives as they occur in Honduras through three distinct but interrelated lenses: academic discourse on Honduran archaeology; the conceptualization and development of a Honduran national identity; and the engagement of descendant groups with this constructed heritage. Considered together, these perspectives illuminate the complex cultural and political foundation(s) of memory.

DOI: 10.14712/23363231.2021.8