Sebastián van Doesburg
Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: History
Competition: Latin America & Caribbean
Since the late 1980s, Sebastián (Bas) van Doesburg has specialized in the study of the pictographic texts produced by indigenous communities in Oaxaca, Mexico. The existing manuscripts were produced in the decades prior to and shortly after the Spanish conquest (1521), but their contents often go back for centuries. His primary interest has been to interpret these documents in light of current indigenous communities. This includes the study of local archives as well as topographical surveys, which provide key insights into indigenous narratives of socio-political governance. With the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he will write about documents originating from the Coixtlahuaca area and how such documents provide significant information about the development of city-states in this southern part of Mexico.
Van Doesburg has published several books and articles on this subject. Códices Cuicatecos, received the ‘Antonio García Cubas’ prize by the Mexican National Council of the Arts (CONACULTA) and the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH) for the best book in anthropology of 2001. He has taught at Leiden University—where he received his Ph.D., Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and at the Universidad Autónoma "Benito Juárez" de Oaxaca. Currently, he serves as the Academic Coordinator for the Francisco de Burgoa Library, an exceptional historical library located in the former Dominican convent of Santo Domingo de Guzmán.
Van Doesburg has done extensive fieldwork among the Cuicatec and Mazatec of Oaxaca. Notably, he spent a year with farmers in the Sierra Mazateca during his study on the Mazatec calendar, a ritual-agricultural calendar similar to the one used by the Aztecs before the Spanish conquest. In 1997, he was granted a postdoc position at the Dutch Organization of Scientific Research (NWO) and received a special grant of the Mexican Council on Science and Technology (CONACyT) in 2001. During this time, he left the Netherlands and took up permanent residency in the city of Oaxaca.
Another area of interest is the study of architecture and historical urbanism in Mexico. He is currently serving as director of the Casa de la Ciudad, a cultural institute dedicated to disseminating knowledge about historic inner cities and promoting awareness about their role in contemporary urban life. He is also a senior advisor to the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation, one of Mexico’s largest philanthropic foundations, where he coordinates numerous restorations of baroque altarpieces, paintings, and buildings, some in collaboration with the World Monuments Fund in New York. He has recently become a member of the Mexican Committee of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) of UNESCO.