In the Spotlight: Patricia Murrieta-Flores

Patricia Murrieta-Flores is Professor and Co-Director of the Digital Humanities Centre at Lancaster University. Her interest lies in the application of technologies for Humanities and her primary research areas are the development of Artificial Intelligence for the study of Latinamerican colonial history and the Spatial Humanities. 

What were your first thoughts when you saw the call for applications for the fellowship?

I was a bit surprised by the subject as it’s not a usual or common topic, but I was also quite intrigued regarding the possibilities that could emerge from having many people from very different backgrounds and perspectives working on it together.


What does the apocalypse and/or post-apocalypse mean for you?

I think it can have many different meanings depending what perspective you are asking the question from (i.e. whether it is defined from a theological perspective and the point of view of Christianity, or whether it is used as a conceptual framework). In the context of my own work, I use the word to rather signal the forceful and violent ‘end’ of a worldview as it hap-pened for many Mesoamerican cultures at the arrival of the Iberians to the Americas. Defin-ing what is meant by ‘the end’ in archaeology or anthropology, however, is also complex. In Central Mexico, vital parts of the cosmovision, such as beliefs, architecture, and social, eco-nomic, and political structures radically changed in the course of a few generations. In other areas, this change was experienced at varying degrees of intensity, often accompanied by a process of entanglement of local and European worldviews.

What is your fellowship trying to achieve?

My fellowship is looking to untangle some of the questions that have remained unsolved about the different epidemics that desolated the regions that became territories of New Spain during the sixteenth century, focusing on present-day Mexico and Guatemala. This includes carrying out research in a systematic way, exploring the recorded experiences of disease, epidemics, and the remedies used, in a very large historical corpus called The Geographic Reports of New Spain. I’m using a methodology we developed at Lancaster university called Geographical Text Analysis. This combines a series of Machine Learning and computational techniques that allow for the identification, recollection, and analysis of large volumes of text, focusing on geographical aspects. Although there is a substantial amount of research dealing with this history, a large scale analysis has never been possible. These computational approaches unprecedentedly make possible the analysis of thousands of records at once.

How does the fellowship project build on or connect to your previous career or biography?

Over time, my research has focused on the development of Artificial Intelligence methods for historical and archaeological research, with a particular emphasis on Geographic Information Science. The project builds from the datasets, methods and software developed in the context of the DECM Project – Digging into Early Colonial Mexico (lancaster.ac.uk).

What do you hope to take with you from the project and its results?

This research has allowed me to propose a monograph on the subject, and explore in extent other important historical sources now including the Florentine Codex, the Codex Cruz-Badiano, the Ritual de los Bacabes, the Mexicanus Codex, and the works of Francisco Hernández and Hernando Ruíz de Alarcon. It has also allowed me to map for the first time the epidemics at a landscape scale. Although I’m still far from concluding the research, the fellowship has provided me with the theoretical foundation I needed to answer some of the complex questions my research team and I are asking.

What were the aspects at CAPAS that were most valuable for you?

For me, the fellowship was the experience of a lifetime. The contact with so many different people and disciplines, all with their own subjects and perspectives, opened pathways that I could have never imagined. One of the many aspects I’m grateful for was the engaging ways in which the centre facilitated the learning of new theories, readings, and perspectives. Another great bonus was the establishment of new projects, networks, colleagues, and friendships.

To get some practical advice: What would be the three things you would definitely need in a post-apocalyptic world?

Wisdom, community, and compassion.

What are some of your favourite pop culture references to the/an (post)apocalypse?

Oh, this is a difficult one. I have so many recommendations…The Fifth Season by N.K. Jesimin; Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler; Noor by Nnedi Okorafor; Hyperion by Dan Simmons; and to avoid the apocalypse personal or otherwise, The Myth of Normal by Gabor Mate and Daniel Mate.

Games: Bioshock Infinite; Horizon Zero Dawn; The Long Dark

Comics: Monstress; Persepolis; Maus; Saga; Y: The Last Man

Boardgames: Good Dog, Bad Zombie; Zombies; Pandemic

Series (some of these problematic for a series of reasons, but very entertaining!): Battlestar Galactica; The Last of Us; Silo; Sweet Tooth; Altered Carbon; Jerico (the first season was great); Good Omens (the book is amazing too).