Allison Caplan

B.A., Columbia University

Ph.D., Tulane University

Allison Caplan is a scholar of the art of Late Postclassic and early colonial Mesoamerica, with a special focus on the Nahuas (Aztecs) of Central Mexico. Her research interests include Nahua art theory and aesthetics, issues of materiality and value, animal-human relations, and the relationship between visual expression and the Nahuatl language.

Caplan is currently at work on her first book, Flickering Creations: Concepts of Nahua Precious Art, which reconstructs Nahua theorizations of color, light, surface, and assemblage for art in precious stones, feathers, and metals, referred to in Nahuatl as tlazohtli (“precious, or beloved things”). The project emerges from her dissertation, which won the Best Dissertation Award from the Association for Latin American Art in 2021. Caplan’s scholarship has also appeared in Ethnohistory, West 86th, and MAVCOR Journal, as well as the exhibition catalogue Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas and the Routledge Companion to the Global Renaissance. She also has essays in the forthcoming volumes, Mexico Tenochtitlan: Dynamism at the Center of the World (Dumbarton Oaks) and Exhibiting Animals in Europe and America (Routledge).

Caplan has studied the Nahuatl language for ten years, including through two FLAS summer fellowships with the Instituto de Docencia e Investigaciones Etnológicas de Zacatecas (IDIEZ). She has also published translations and presented her research in Nahuatl as part of the Field School in Documentation, Participatory Research, Teaching, and Revitalization of Endangered Languages in Xaltipan, Tlaxcala, Mexico (2017).

Caplan’s research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Interdisciplinary Humanities Center at UC-Santa Barbara, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, Getty Research Institute, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Prior to joining the faculty at Yale, Caplan was Assistant Professor in the History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara and the inaugural Austen-Stokes Ancient Americas Postdoctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins University. She has also worked in curatorial and education departments at several museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Numismatic Society, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and Getty Research Institute.

Caplan teaches courses on ancient and colonial Mesoamerica, Indigenous materiality and art theory, and museums and collecting. She is currently accepting graduate students and is particularly excited to advise those interested in working at the intersection of Art History, Indigenous Studies, and the study of Indigenous languages.


Tlazohtli, Mahuiztic: The Aesthetic Value of Nahua Luxury.” In Mexico Tenochtitlan: Dynamism at the Center of the World, edited by Elizabeth Boone, Barbara Mundy, and Leonardo López Luján. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 2024. (In press)

“The Cotinga and the Hummingbird: Material Mobilities in the Early Colonial Featherwork of New Spain.” In The Routledge Companion to the Global Renaissance, edited by Stephen Campbell and Stephanie Porras. 482-499. Routledge, 2024

“Blowers of Sun-Excrement: Nahua Lost-Wax Gold Casting in the Florentine Codex Book 9, Chapter 16.” Nahuatl translation and scholarly introduction. West 86th 28, no. 2 (Fall-Winter 2021): 215–231.

“Locking Eyes with the Sun: Perception, Landscape, and the Fame of Greenstone in a Sixteenth-Century Nahuatl Narrative.” MAVCOR Journal 5, no. 1 (2021): paras. 1–53. 10.223322/mav.ess.2021.3.

“Birds and Feathers in the Ancient and Colonial Mesoamerican World.” Special issue, edited by Allison Caplan and Lisa Sousa. Ethnohistory 67, no. 3 (2020).

“The Living Feather: Tonalli in Nahua Featherwork Production.” In “Birds and Feathers in the Ancient and Colonial Mesoamerican World,” Ethnohistory 67, no. 3 (2020): 383–406.

“Bridging Biology and Ethnohistory: A Case for Collaboration.” By Allison Caplan, James M. Maley, and John E. McCormack. In “Birds and Feathers in the Ancient and Colonial Mesoamerican World,” Ethnohistory 67, no. 3 (2020): 355–382.

“The Aztec Templo Mayor.” In Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter, 114. Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2017.