The role of the Pacific Ocean is taking on increasing importance in Pre-Columbian, Colonial, and Contemporary studies of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. Our project focuses on a key region within this vast system— the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca and its adjacent Pacific Coast— one of the most ethnically complex and biologically diverse regions in the world. For over two millennia Oaxacan Indigenous cultures constructed here monumental sites; ruled over vast city-states; invented complex writing systems and iconography; and crafted among the finest artistic traditions in the world, some of which are still perpetuated to this day. The clash of the Indigenous and the European worlds in the 16th century created a most unique culture, the legacy of which underlies the modern nation of Mexico. By traveling from the bustling Oaxaca City through the valleys, mountains, and down to the Pacific Coast, students will be introduced to a dynamic arena where long-term colonial interests were negotiated between Indigenous and European powers such as the Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Aztecs, Pochutecs, Chontal, Huaves, Spanish and, even English, Dutch, and French Pirates! Students will conduct interactive exercises in ceremonial centers and off-the-beaten track archaeological sites and museums, learn to decipher and employ Indigenous pictorial documents and European maps, experience urban and rural lifestyles in various geographical zones, visit sacred sites where rituals are still being performed today, and actively participate in local festivities. Finally, through the study of long-term colonial processes in southern Mexico, students will gain a better understanding of this fascinating modern nation-state and its direct impact on contemporary debates. Please note that this field school does not involve an active participation in archaeological fieldwork.
The directors welcome emails and inquiries about the research elements of this project. More general information (tuition, health insurance, and payment schedule) can be found under the ‘Students’ tab above. Any further questions may be addressed to IFR staff. Additional details about research, course schedule, travel, accommodation, and safety can be found on the syllabus. Contacting the directors or the IFR office is encouraged and appreciated. It may help you determine if this field school is a good fit for you.
Dr. Zborover is the Academic Director of Archaeology at the Institute for Field Research. He previously worked as a Research Associate at the Center for US-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego, and the Director of the Chontalpa Historical Archaeological Project.
Dr. John M.D. Pohl
Dr. Pohl is Adjunct Full Professor in the Department of Art History at UCLA &
Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology at California State University Los Angeles.
Choosing to take part in this program has been, without a doubt, one of the greatest decisions I have made in the course of my academic career. I was initially drawn to this particular field school because of the unique opportunity for students to travel between archaeological sites and experience such a large part of Mexico’s immense cultural diversity, both past and present. At each of the sites we visited, we were taught to use art historical materials and ethnographic techniques to reconstruct elements of culture which, when studied in tandem with material artifacts, provide an understanding of archaeological context far greater than that allowed by excavation alone. Furthermore, this remarkable program teaches students to collaborate with local people and utilize cultural knowledge to conduct research that is better guided from the start, thus minimizing destruction to a site and its surrounding landscape, while respecting and preserving the community in which it lies. I was continually awed by the amazing quality of our professors, leaders in their field, who were equal parts brilliant, supportive, and thoroughly inspiring. They made a point of introducing students to a huge variety of potential research opportunities, and were dedicated to helping us find places to focus our specific interests and talents within a large, and otherwise intimidating field. This program has inspired me to continue doing research back at UCLA, and has given me both the practical skills and confidence to pursue a career in the field of Mesoamerican archaeology.
Celsiana Gera, University of California Los Angeles (2013)
The IFR program is a unique and rewarding experience that has directly influenced the path I’ve taken in my academic life. It has inspired me to continue pursuing further research in pre-Columbian art with Professor Pohl at UCLA. Professor Pohl and Danny Zborover created an environment in which we could contribute to the discourse of pre-Columbian and early Colonial cultural and physical landscapes. I feel very fortunate to be able to learn from their vast knowledge of the Valley of Mexico, the Plain of Puebla, the Valley of Oaxaca and the Nochixtlan Valley. The program is multifaceted and allows students to explore different areas of interests in pre-Columbian Mexico. As a leading expert in the field, Professor Pohl conducts the program in a manner that encompasses ethnohistorical and art historical methodologies. In doing so, we were able to use Mixtec codices, maps, and lienzos to analyze the landscape of the Nochixtlan Valley and relate our findings to present day communities that were the locations of the events portrayed in the codices. Learning to read the codices was truly fascinating, but our interactions with the local indigenous people we encountered were just as thrilling. In speaking to the direct descendants of the original inhabitants and writing ethnographies, we can further support our findings from the codices. I can honestly say that I’ve never had this much fun in an academic environment. I walked away from this trip with lasting friendships and a better understanding of myself and the world around. Everyday was an adventure with endless opportunities to learn. I highly recommend this field school to anyone interested in fully immersing one’s self in the culture of Mexico, while working in a truly interdisciplinary approach.
Gabriela Hernandez, University of California Los Angeles (2013)
I can say without doubt that the month I spent in Mexico with Dr. Zborover and Dr. Pohl completely changed my career goals and defined my interests in a way that could not have been possible in a normal classroom. What I learned in Oaxaca proved to be invaluable both academically speaking and on a more personal level as no other experience has ever made me grow as an individual as much as this one. The experience opened my eyes to the field of mesoamerican studies and the many avenues it contains, many of which I didn’t even know existed. By meeting with locals and experts in the field, we had a real taste of what doing academic research in Oaxaca is like and had the opportunity to appreciate each facet that this kind of work implies. We all had the freedom to pursue our own interests and push ourselves by doing independent research and take initiatives. By traveling to diferent parts of the region, from the seashores of Huatulco to the high altitude of the Sierra Mixteca, we got to appreciate the diversity of the field and of the incredible country that Mexico is, but also to challenge ourselves by stepping out of our comfort zone constantly. The knowledge and experiences that I gained thanks to this field school are undoubtedly the most memorable experience of my undergraduate degree and have deeply motivated me to continue in the path of mesoamerican studies in graduate school later on.
Sophie Rodrigues-Coutlee, McGill University (2014)
Costs of instruction
Room & board
All local transportation
A deposit of $500 is required. Once your application is accepted, the deposit fee secures your seat in this project. This program requires an application. There is no application fee. Only accepted students are provided with the link to pay the deposit fee.
A 2.5% Processing Fee is automatically assessed for all credit/debit card payments
A $100 Late Fee will be assessed if full tuition payment is not completed by the deadline.
Look at the field school syllabus above for room & board details.
Students will be staying in hotels, local inns, and with host families while traveling through the different regions of Oaxaca and the Pacific Coast. All students will be sharing a room based on room size and availability. In Huamelula, students will be sleeping on inflatable beds and/or hammocks.
Oaxacan food is a wonderful blend of Indigenous and European cuisines, and dining is a cultural experience in itself. Breakfasts and dinners are usually taken in local restaurants and diners, and light lunches in the field mostly consist of sandwiches. Specialized diets (vegan, kosher, etc.) are difficult to maintain, and vegetarians might find options fairly limited. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are provided by the program 6 days a week. Students are responsible for their meals on free days each weekend.
Students are responsible for making their own travel arrangements to the Xoxocotlán International Airport in Oaxaca City (OAX). Please plan to arrive to Oaxaca City on Sunday June 18, between 8 am and 6 pm. All students will meet with the project personnel at the airport and leave together to the designated hotel. Orientation and classes will begin promptly on Monday June 19, at 9 am.
If you missed your connection or your flight is delayed, please call, text or email project director immediately. Project cell phone number will be provided to all enrolled students.
Student safety is paramount for the IFR. Unlike many universities who are self-insured, the IFR purchases a range of high end insurance policies from some of the largest insurers in the world. Students in all our international programs have a comprehensive health insurance policy. It covers sickness, and chronic and mental health conditions at 100% of the cost. We have a strong evacuation and extraction policy. We can remove students from any location anywhere in the world with one phone call – whether medical evacuation, political or natural disaster extraction and anything in between. We purchase intelligence services from a global private provider and monitor the world 24/7. We automatically enroll our students to the US State Department STEP program. All of our students receive safety orientations both before and on the first day of each program. Our faculty have all been working in the areas where we operate field schools for years. They are intimately familiar with local customs and traditions, know the landscape well and have deep relationships with local communities.
All our domestic programs are coordinated with local authorities which are informed of our operations. Students in domestic programs are covered by their own health insurance and evacuations are managed by local emergency services, as appropriate.
The IFR has strong, explicit and robust policy towards discrimination and harassment in the field (click here for a shortcut). If students feel they cannot discuss personal safety issues with the field school staff, the IFR operates an emergency hotline where students can contact IFR personnel directly.
Travel does involve risk, but we try to minimize this risk as much as possible. Call us at 877-839-4374 or email us at email@example.com if you have questions about the safety of particular programs.