Nicole T. Hughes
Nicole T. Hughes researches the early modern world with a special focus on New Spain (Mexico) and Brazil in the sixteenth century. Primary sources take a crucial role in determining her methods and approaches, and her current research engages with literary and cultural studies, historical anthropology, festive studies / theater history, conceptual history, and rhetorical analysis. She works with diverse texts—chronicles, historias, letters, autos, dialogues, epic and lyric poetry, novelas, legal treatises—and material / visual culture, including feather mosaics, woodcuts, and pictographic codices. Her research encompasses texts in Spanish, Portuguese, Classical Nahuatl, Tupi Antigo, French, and Latin.
Her first book project, Stages of History: The Theatrical Invention of New Spain and Brazil in the Sixteenth Century, analyzes theatrical spectacles in which missionaries, conquistadors, and Indigenous elites superimposed depictions of far-flung conflicts and interpretations of local struggles. She argues that by envisioning other parts of the world and relating those images back to the Americas, participants created foundational narratives of New Spain and Brazil. The book is a substantial reworking of her dissertation, which was a finalist for the Latin American Studies’ Association Maureen Ahern Award for best dissertation in Colonial Latin American Studies (2017–2020).
She regularly teaches two mixed undergraduate and graduate signature courses, in addition to Ph.D. seminars and ILAC core courses. In “Colonial Mexico: Images and Power,” students explore how images maintained, constructed, and transformed political power during the conquest and colonization of Mesoamerica. The course, “Shipwrecks and Backlands: Getting Lost in Literature,” takes students on a journey through tales of getting lost in the Portuguese and Spanish empires, beginning with sea-dominated stories of Portuguese voyages to Asia, Africa, and Brazil, and then turning to how the sertão, or backlands, became a driving force of Brazilian literature.
Explore my articles:
Renaissance Quarterly published her article, “Fiestas Fit for a King: Contested Symbolic Regimes of Power in New Spain” in November of 2023. This piece explores how the conquistadors’ descendants adopted heraldry, hereditary titles, and royal ceremony “in jest” in mid-sixteenth-century Mexico City. It argues that the judges’ obsession with how wealthy settlers adopted royal pomp and circumstance, on the one hand, and refusal to recognize how they imitated the Mexica nobility, on the other, helped to consolidate Spanish power—symbolic and literal—in New Spain.
*Awarded honorable mention for the RSA's William Nelson Prize for the best article published in Renaissance Quarterly during 2023
Colonial Latin American Review published her article, “Set in Stone: Jesuit Martyrdom at Land and Sea in Sixteenth-Century Brazil” in July of 2023. This piece explores how Jesuit missionaries in Brazil wanted adversaries to slay them in odium fidei (in hatred of the faith), a traditional requirement for martyrdom. The article argues that while the Soldiers of Christ found that their evangelical work remained on land, the sea’s narrative tropes suited the requirements for martyrdom best. To construct their case for Jesuit martyrs in Brazil, they subverted an age-old poetic landscape and constructed a fluid literary cartography.
Representations published her article, “The Sultan Hernán Cortés: The Double Staging of The Conquest of Jerusalem” in December of 2020. The piece argues that the festival account of the religious drama known as The Conquest of Jerusalem is a palimpsest. It contains both the Tlaxcalans’ ambitious diplomatic strategy, expressed in their performance, and the Franciscan Friar Motolinía’s efforts to steer Castile’s policies through his textual reconstruction of the drama.