Overhead view of a dessert landscape, with a cliff in the far distance. In the foreground are ruins of Pueblo Indian dwellings. A half circle is open toward the cliffs in the distance. Several round pits or indentations are visible in the ruins, as are what look like walls that would have been between rooms or buildings. A taller wall appears to have spanned the backs of the dwellings.

Historian says ancient trade route was a pre-cursor to modern global economy

An engraved, colored map, dissected and mounted on linen. Map is of Mexico and California, showing Mexican boundary of 1810 to the Mermento River in Louisiana. Insert in lower left shows the Valley of Mexico, from Humboldt map. Insert in center shows Acapulco. Insert in lower right shows Veracruz. "Engraved by E. Jones" is inscribed in the bottom of the title circle.
This map, originally published on October 5, 1810, and currently held at the John Carter Brown Library, illustrates the geographical area that contained the Indian Camino Real.

“Global economy” might be a modern buzzword, but the phenomenon has been around a lot longer. In fact, while Google’s Ngram Viewer indicates use of the phrase “global economy” peaked around the turn of the 21st Century, historian Tatiana Seijas says trade that would today be considered international has been thriving on the North American continent since at least the 10th Century.

Seijas, an assistant professor at Miami University and a 2014-2015 research fellow at Brown University’s John Carter Brown Library, is studying what she calls the Indian Camino Real, an 1800-mile route that linked the Rio Grande Valley to the Mesoamerican Highlands from about the 900s through about 1850.

According to Seijas, the Indian Camino Real was used for trade by indigenous peoples in the pre-Columbian era, including Apaches, Zunis, Janos, Tarahumaras, and Otomis. Evidence of this trade, she says, comes from archaeological data that show goods like cacao, turquoise and macaw feathers, all of which are native to specific areas, turning up in other areas hundreds of miles away.

For instance, Seijas points to a circa 1000 drinking vessel from an archaeological site at the Pueblo Bonito great house in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. This cup contains residue with the biomarker for cacao, a plant that grows only within about 20 degrees of the equator. Its presence in Chaco Canyon means that the ancestral Pueblo people living there at the time must have had contact with people living 1000 miles or more to the south.

Those people, Seijas says, are possibly the Toltecs. Evidence of this connection comes in the form of turquoise found at archaeological sites on the Toltecs’ ancestral lands in Tula, in the Mexican state of Hidalgo. Turquoise is a mineral that – in the New World – occurs only in the Southwest United States, and is strongly associated with the Pueblo Indians.

“All these traders and merchants walked or rode a horse from the central valley of Mexico all the way to New Mexico, back and forth, back and forth, for centuries and centuries,” Seijas says. “So to think about their journeys is to think about how it is that people build trade networks and create markets and maintain connections to other people who speak different languages.“

By the time New Mexico became a Spanish colony in 1595, the Indian Camino Real had been thriving as a trade route for over half a millennium. Seijas says this ancient infrastructure gave the area’s new Spanish settlers access to local indigenous goods like bison hides, as well as global commodities. “They could get olive oil from Europe and Chinese textiles and crucifixes made of ivory.”

Seijas says that even though we may have come to think of access to imported goods as a convenience of the digital age, “trade and connection are constants of human history. It’s human nature to want to make connections with others, and to want stuff from other areas.”

And that’s not the only way in which thinking about the Indian Camino Real challenges our modern assumptions.

“It always struck me that the way U.S. history is taught, the story of the original 13 colonies seems to be the only founding narrative of this country,” Seijas says. “ I want to contribute to a new way of thinking about U.S. history, from a longer perspective.”

Seijas is one of seven long-term faculty fellows currently in residence at the John Carter Brown Library, and she says she’s honored to have been selected from among hundreds of applicants.

“The John Carter Brown Library has the most important collection of maps and old books about the Americas in the world,” Seijas says. “They have every book that has to do with the Americas that was printed anywhere in the world from about 1500 to 1900, so it’s important for any historian of the Americas to spend time here.”

Seijas plans to produce a book from her research on the Indian Camino Real, and has appointments lined up to pitch it to editors attending the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in January. The book, she says, will be of interest to specialists, but – thanks in part to an abundance of maps and illustrations – it will appeal to general audiences too.

“I want it to be a way of helping others to understand some of the connections that people living in the Southwest today have to Mexico and to Latin America.”

Understanding these centuries-old connections, not only helps us understand the politics and culture of a geographical region, but also, says Seijas, “helps us understand why we have an interest in thinking globally today.”

Written by Heather Beattey Johnston, Associate Director & Information Coordinator, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Photo of map by Aaron Arrowsmith, courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Brown University.  Photo of Pueblo Bonito ruins in Chaco Canyon by SkybirdForever via Wikimedia Commons, used under Creative Commons license.

A variety of buildings is packed typically close in this view of the Bangkok skyline. Shorter 5- to 10-story buildings in the foreground include two orange brick buildings and three white buildings. Tall skyscrapers are visible in the background, including one with a crane on the roof.

Undergraduate completes research internship in Southeast Asia

A young woman with long, dark, curly hair and wearing a long black skirt, red and black patterned shirt and black sweater holds up a piece of paper from a spiral-bound notebook. The paper has a hand-drawn Miami beveled M logo and the words Love & Honor handwritten in cursive underneath. In the background are a green lawn, several buildings with tiled roofs, a round pavilion-type structure and a brick building. A tall gold spire extends from the roof of one of the tile-roofed buildings, near the center of the frame.
Miami University psychology and pre-medical studies major Cecelia Favede displays Miami love and honor in front of Bangkok’s Grand Palace. Favede’s trip to the Thai capital in summer 2014 to conduct research on the community health worker system was supported in part by a research award from OARS.

Community health workers (CHWs) help aid public health by serving on the frontline and having a thorough understanding of the health situation of the community they oversee. They strive to be the trusted link between health services and the community, in order to provide access to appropriate services and improve the quality of health care in their communities.

One way CHWs have been able to better aid the members of their designated communities is through analyses of data collected from areas of service. This is the type of contribution Miami University junior and psychology and pre-medical studies major Cecelia Favede was able to make to Cambodia’s CHW program during her research internship this past summer in Thailand. Working for the Oxford University Nuffield Department of Medicine at the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU), Favede did intensive reading and qualitative analyses of data. Drawing on the literature review, Favede wrote a paper on the roles and motivations of CHWs in their communities and in the eyes of the academic community. Her analysis, which was conducted with NVivo software and a statistical package, allowed her to create a demographic breakdown of the program and form a foundation for future correlational research.

Favede was awarded grants by a variety of Miami University resources, including OARS, in support of her 2014 research experience at the MORU in Bangkok, Thailand. Her mentor for the duration of her internship was Dr. Lisa White, head of Math and Economic Modeling (MAEMOD) at MORU.

During her internship, Favede co-authored a paper analyzing the ethics of the CHW program as a whole. She also collaborated with White and Oxford University’s dean of ethics on a study that analyzed the sustainability and continuity of a CHW project in Cambodia supported by an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. In addition to this, Favede provided input on the ethics of mass drug administration in northern Thailand, assisted Thai PhD candidates with revisions for their theses (which were written in English), helped teach English at the university school, and spent time doing field work.

Favede has been interested in research since high school. As a junior her interest was piqued when she applied for a scholarship awarded on the basis of a scholarly pursuit. That project focused on the psychological and physiological effects of addiction to social media. “I have always been exceptionally interested in the diversity of application of psychological research,” Favede said.

Favede says her time in Thailand provided her with a better understanding of herself, as well as of the world that exists outside of the United States. She cites a favorite quote by Buck Ghosthorse that she feels describes her journey and growth in Bangkok: “Sometimes we have to travel to the edge of ourselves to find our center.”

Now that she’s home, Favede plans to complete the study she worked on during her internship, and anticipates doing more research in the future.

Written by Nicole Antonucci, Communications Intern, Office for the Advancement of Research & Scholarship, Miami University.

Images by Cecelia Favede, used with permission.