Miruna Achim

Miruna Achim is Associate Professor in the Humanities Department at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Cuajimalpa, Mexico City, where she has taught since 2004. She received her B.A. from Harvard University in the field of Art History and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University, in the field of Spanish and Portuguese Literature. Professor Achim specializes in the history of science and medicine in Latin America and collections, museums and the public sphere in eighteenth century Mexico. She is the author of Lagartijas medicinales: remedios americanos y debates ilustrados, published in 2008 and is currently working on two other books, El Museo Nacional de México y los guiones de la historia, 1825-1867 and, The Astrological Tradition in Colonial Mexico.
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Dr. Achim’s talk is entitled “Mexican Antiquities for Mounted Birds (Or, how to build a National Museum, Mexico City, c. 1828)”. In 1828, the recently founded National Museum in Mexico City engaged in a somewhat unusual exchange with the French traveler Henri Baradère. The Museum ceded Baradère pre-Colombian antiquities and manuscripts describing the famed ruins of Palenque, in return for a considerable number of mounted birds, collected in different places in Mexico and Africa. In retrospect, the exchange violates our notions of value: long after most of Baradère’s specimens had been destroyed by insects, the ruins of Palenque continued to exercise a powerful effect on the imagination of explorers, travelers, antiquarians, and fortune-seekers, comparable only to that of Luxor at the beginning of the nineteenth century. But, rather than judging the pertinence or the “logic” of the deal against some modern-day actuarial table, this talk will strive to understand the motives which led Isidro Icaza, the Museum’s Director, to consider the exchange “notoriously advantageous.” Reconstructing the trajectories and contingent meanings of the objects that entered and left the National Museum, this talk will reflect on the situation of national museums in Latin America in the post-Independence decade, on the criteria which governed the formation of their collections, and on the legitimating strategies some of them employed in the attempt to establish their autonomy and command institutional recognition as active protagonists in the traffic of collectables in the first half of the nineteenth century.