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Romancing the Maya

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Romancing the Maya
Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination 1820-1915. By R. Tripp Evans. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2004. Pg. xii, 202. B & W Photos, Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-292-70247-7.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - May 12, 2004

Romancing the Maya takes the reader on an intriguing journey that explores how the rediscovery of Mayan ruins touched the imagination and the psyche of Americans, between 1820 and 1915. Topics covered included American presumptuousness and their sense of entitlement to "Mexico's cultural heritage," the idea that the Maya where one of the 'Lost Tribes of Israel', and accounts of the first Western explorers who rediscovered the Mayan ruins.

In the process of exploring this pivotal period in Mesoamerican studies, Evans details the impact that five men had on the extent of America's cultural imperialism, and the sense of superiority that Americans' had in regard to their neighbors in Mexico. The five men in question are John Lloyd Stephens, Frederick Catherwood, Desire Charnay, Augustus Le Plongeon, and Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Later Day Saints. Evans details what motivated each of these men to co-opt Mexico's legacy for America - and the impact that their actions and theories had on both the United States, and Mexico.

This work ably captures the sense of mystery and wonder that Americans' felt following the rediscovery of the vestiges of Mayan civilization. The notion of explorers hiking though dense jungle and literally stumbling upon spectacular temples and other ruins has sparked the imagination ever since, but even more so when the discoveries where first made and no one yet knew who had built these monuments and no one could yet read the hieroglyphs that adorned the artifacts. Where did the builders come from, and where did they go? It would be years before these questions began to be answered.

Written in an engaging narrative style and well illustrated, Romancing the Maya is ideal for general readers seeking an accessible guide to the genesis of Mesoamerican archaeology. This book will also intrigue students, archaeologist, and historians interested in Mesoamerican and American studies and Pre-Columbian archaeology.

Related Reviews:

The Maya Tropical Forest: People, Parks, and Ancient Cities, by James D. Nations.
Part travelogue and part natural history guidebook; this book provides important data about the state and future of the Maya Tropical forest and the history and geography of the region.

Jungle of the Maya, photographs by Douglas Goodell and Jerry Barrack.
This book takes readers on a breath-taking photographic journey through the Selva Maya (Forest of the Maya).

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