Thèse : The Heart of Red: Cochineal in Colonial Mexico and India


  • Moore, Deirdre
  • Park, Katharine. Directeur
  • Kuriyama, Shigehisa. Directeur


This dissertation explores how a complex relationship between humans, plants and animals led to the production of one of the Iberian Empire’s most valued commodities in the colonial period: cochineal dye. My research involves the history of cochineal dye insects in Europe, Asia and Central America. Based on archival research conducted in English, Spanish and Latin this thesis examines attempts and methods of growing and treating cochineal dye insects from Oaxaca, Mexico to Madras, India. I use global comparisons between native peoples in these areas to study colonial commodities with a particular focus on knowledge systems.

Indigenous peoples developed an intricate set of practices, highly dependent on local geography, to ensure the survival of the domesticated cochineal insect (Dactylopius coccus). I consider a complex set of technologies/craft practices employed by indigenous people to grow cochineal in the different micro-climates of the Oaxacan landscape in southern Mexico. Unlike their natural philosophical contemporaries in early modern Europe, native cochineal growers appear to have understood the insect’s generation in detail. This project explains how a domesticated insect with symbolic and religious content was turned into the second most lucrative commodity and industry in colonial Mexico after precious metals. It also examines how knowledge regarding the raising of cochineal insects stayed in hands of native cochineal growers for centuries and did not translate well into other systems. By combining methods in anthropology, history of science, technology studies and environmental history with close text and image analysis, my work re-situates the cochineal in the various worlds views of different historical, global actors from Mexico to India.

Informations pratiques

Olivier Jacquot

Responsable de la valorisation et des données de la recherche > Coordination de la recherche > Délégation à la stratégie et à la recherche > Bibliothèque nationale de France

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