Alpha of Kansas - since 1890

Visiting Scholar

Mary Miller

February 20, 2018

5:30 p.m. Spencer Museum of Art

The Kansas Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa is proud to host Visiting Scholar Mary Miller at the University of Kansas. 

Her public lecture topic is: "Were They Enslaved?  Maya Figurines from Jaina Island and Beyond." 

The ancient Maya of the Yucatan peninsula crafted hundreds, if not thousands, of figurines, during the years AD 600-900, offering them in burials on the Island of Jaina. Some of these figurines were made in molds, and thus mass-produced; others were made entirely by hand, carefully modeled to reveal animated gestures and expressions. Men and women, dwarves and children, these Jaina figurines reveal members of elite society, attendants at court, and a few more modest folk.

The complexity of Maya social life, especially for women, is rarely seen in other media, such as painted ceramics or monumental sculpture. Who are these weavers, these amorous women, these faithful companions of the dead? Although long assumed to be elite women or moon goddesses, female figurines may open a window on more disturbing Maya practices, particularly enslavement, and the culture of Jaina Island itself. The figurines can be seen through a variety of lenses: recent archaeology has provided rich new contexts for consideration and extensive examination of hundreds of examples in Mexico, Europe, and the United States makes it possible to see previously unrecognized roles and rituals. Additionally, identification of patterns of costume and accouterment offers fresh insights into this elegant figurine tradition.

This presentation will also address the enslavement of indigenous people by indigenous people. The practice is not well understood, rarely identified in the archaeological record, and sometimes overlooked in historical documents. Jaina figurines may offer a previously unknown window into enslavement.

Mary Miller is Sterling Professor of the History of Art and senior director of the Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage at Yale. A specialist in the art of the ancient New World and curator of major international exhibitions, she is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has delivered the Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts at the National Gallery of Art as well as the Slade Lectures at Cambridge University. Her books include The Blood of Kings: Ritual and Dynasty in Maya Art; The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya; Maya Art and Architecture; Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya; A Pre-Columbian World; The Art of Mesoamerica; and The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court: Reflections on the Murals of Bonampak.

Since 1956, the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar Program has been offering undergraduates the opportunity to spend time with some of America's most distinguished scholars. The purpose of the program is to contribute to the intellectual life of the campus by making possible an exchange of ideas between the Visiting Scholars and the resident faculty and students. Read more about the History of the Visiting Scholar Program​ here

Questions? Email pbk@ku.edu!


One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times
KU Today