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The Maya Peoples: An Ancient Civilisation, Its Present and Future



Bachelor year 2.


The Maya, a complex of diverse related communities, encompass a group of 32 contemporary languages which are indigenous to southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. The heirs of this ancient civilisation are, admittedly, not just the remnants of past glories, but important actors in contemporary politics, arts and scholarship within the nation-states that emerged after Spanish and British colonial rule ended in the region.

In this course, we will explore the most significant elements of cultural continuity which characterise the contemporary Maya, as well as the most recent developments, questions and contributions that this diverse group of peoples present to the world. Special focus will be given to the Maya people of the Yucatán, to whom the lecturer belongs.

Important notions that will be examined are: the supposed “collapse” of Maya civilisation in the 10th-11th centuries AD, the trans-cultural nature of Maya resistance and accommodation to external influences, the long continuity of Maya environmental science, calendric knowledge and literary genres, the significance of contemporary Maya political mobilisation and intellectual production in Mexico (Zapatista movement), Belize (collective land rights struggles) and Guatemala (Pan-Mayanism and renaissance), among other topics of interest.

Course objectives

  • To re-examine the most common myths and misconceptions about the Maya civilization (its supposed “collapse”, the importance of “human sacrifice”, etc.);

  • To recognise the complex histories and dynamic principles that explain the continuity of Maya heritage (languages, as well as political and cultural practice) in a vast and diverse region;

  • To identify the current developments experienced, and contributions made by Maya peoples, communities and intellectuals which respond to contemporary global concerns;

  • To develop skills to critically navigate an ever-expanding international field of research;

  • To convincingly present academic analyses and to defend one’s own position in oral presentations, in writing and in visual form;

  • Ability to critically evaluate data;

  • Ability to convincingly present and defend academic analyses in presentations, in writing, orally and in visual form (poster).


Course schedule details can be found in the BA2 time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures;

  • Literature;

  • Seminars;

  • Film watching at home and in class;

  • Assignments.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • 24 contact hours (1,5 ec);

  • 250 pages of literature; (2 ec);

  • Assignments and essay (1,5 ec).

Assessment method

  • Assignments (25%);

  • Poster design and presentation (25%);

  • Final paper (50%).

A retake is only possible for the final paper, provided that the assignments and poster have been submitted and the presentation has been given.

All exam dates (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the BA2 examination schedule.

Reading list

  • McKillop, H. (2004). The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives. ABC-CLIO, Santa Barbara, California;

  • Ford, A. & Nigh, R. (2015). The Maya Forest Garden. Eight Millenia of Sustainable Cultivation of the Tropical Woodlands. Left Coast Press Inc., Walnut Creek, California;

  • Tedlock, D. (2011). 2000 Years of Mayan Literature. University of California Press, Berkeley;

  • Rice, P.M. (2007). Maya Calendar Origins. Monuments, Mythistory, and the Materialization of Time. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas;

  • Pitarch, Speed & Leyva-Solano (2008). Human Rights in the Maya Region: Global Politics, Cultural Contentions, and Moral Engagements. Duke University Press, Durham;

  • Montejo, V.D. (2005). Maya Intellectual Renaissance: Identity, Representation, and Leadership. University of Texas Press, Houston;

  • Various films and documentaries.


Registration via uSis is mandatory.

  • The Administration Office will register all BA1 students for their tutorials (not lectures; register via uSis!).

  • BA2, BA3, MA/MSc and RMA/RMSc students are required to register for all lectures and tutorials well in time.

  • Start registration for the BA2 seminars:
    Series 1: 16 September 2019, 07:00 hrs
    Series 2: 13 January 2020, 07:00 hrs
    Series 3: 24 February 2020, 07:00 hrs

  • The Administration Office registers all students for their exams, students are not required to do this in uSis.


For more information about his course, please contact G.D.J. (Genner) Llanes Ortiz.


Compulsory attendance.