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" The author continues, "Anger, love, and jealousy may trouble them, but these passions rarely make them commit the extravagances so common among Europeans," (Biart p. 48). Here the author demonstrates a serious bias in the work: repeatedly glorifying the Aztecs. The Aztecs sometimes seems to be about the author's impressions of Aztec culture more so than about the culture itself. Sometimes the book seems like an account of encounter between the civilized Europeans and the primitive indigenous people of Mexico. The author compares Aztec society with European society at several times in the book.
Throughout the Aztecs Biart broadcasts a deep admiration for the culture. The author's palpable admiration of the Aztecs usually works in the book's favor by providing a post-colonial examination of a pre-Columbian society. Except for the stereotypes and generalizations that occasionally creep into the historiography, Biart uses his personal respect to bolster the book. For instance, using the Toltec name for the country and also describing the geographic terrain using pre-Aztec connotations bolster the validity of Biart's enterprise. The author openly decries the decimation of Aztec society by the Spaniards, too. Instead of viewing the Aztecs through a colonial lenspiece, Biart as much as possible tries to paint a picture of what pre-contact Mexican civilization might have been like. The author explicitly states this main purpose of the book in the prologue. That purpose is mainly fulfilled, especially given the lack of primary source material.
When describing Aztec culture in depth during the second half of the historiography, Biart refrains as much as possible from judgment. However, Biart does project European values and cultural norms on whatever scant hard evidence the author has. The author does not note which specific archaeological findings might have led to conclusions about issues like Aztec military culture. Nevertheless, the ethnology Biart provides is invaluable: one of the first times a historian was able to present a pre-contact culture in a positive light while offering an unveiled critique of colonialism. The Aztecs is fascinating as much for its lending insight into European worldviews at the turn of the century as for the book's content.
The Aztecs proves to be a tremendous resource of information on Aztec culture. In spite of its flaws and its being outdated, Biart's book is one of the earliest compendiums of its kind. The material Biart included in the book addresses almost all aspects of Aztec society and the Aztecs is admirably thorough. Including issues related to gender, class, and social power strengthens the work too.
Biart does not source the material well with in-text citations or footnotes. The absence of citations would be unheard of in current scholastic works, but not in nineteenth-century ones. Unfortunately, little of the information included in the book is directly documented such as that on cosmogony or most other aspects of Aztec society. Still, Biart does note in the introduction that the source material derives from Spanish sources but also from Aztec ones as well. Culling information from multiple sources means that the author might have relied heavily on shared accounts. The problem with relying on European sources as primary material is obvious: the Spaniards were unlikely to have documented Aztec society without a heavy bias. A belief in the supremacy of Christian values and European cultures was most likely to color the conquistadores accounts. Therefore, much of the Biart historiography depends solely on the author's credibility, rather than on the credibility of the cited materials. For a book written well over a century ago, however, Biart's methodology is as reliable as possible. Biart also speaks about Aztec and Mexican society from first-hand experiences after having spent time in the country.
Biart helps dispel myths and misinformation about Mexican culture by revealing the tremendous diversity within indigenous Mexican civilizations. One of the most interesting tidbits of information Biart includes in the work pertains to the origins of the Aztec empire itself: the author shows how the Mayans are linguistic cousins with the indigenous people of Cuba, Haiti, and Jamaica. Another great strength of the Aztecs is the author's descriptions of social structure in Aztec society. The explanation allows readers to draw conclusions about issues like…[continue]
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