Brasseur de Bourbourg, Charles Étienne (1814–1874)

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Brasseur de Bourbourg, Charles Étienne (1814–1874)

Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg (b. 8 September 1814; d. January 1874), French prelate, antiquarian, and pioneer ethnohistorian. Ordained in 1845, Brasseur enjoyed a variety of postings in the Americas, where he was able to make most of his lasting contributions. Among the countries he visited were Canada (1845–1846), the United States (on at least two occasions, in 1848 and 1854), Mexico (1848–1851, 1863–1866, and 1871), Nicaragua and El Salvador (1854), Guatemala (1855–1857 and 1863), and Honduras (1863).

Brasseur is significant today primarily for his discovery, translation, and publication of several important colonial sources concerning Mesoamerican Indians, principally the Maya. These include Diego de Landa's Relación de las cosas de Yucatán, the Popol Vuh, the Título de los señores de Totonicapán, the Troano Codex, and the Memorial de Tecpán Atitlán, or Annals of Cakchiquels. He also compiled and published linguistic materials for both highland Maya (primarily Quiché, including the Rabinal Achí drama) and lowland Maya (Yucatecan) peoples that continue to be useful to scholars. Unfortunately, Brasseur's historical interpretations of the documents he worked so tirelessly to discover were judged even by his contemporaries to be seriously flawed. Of little use to present-day scholars on the region, his pronouncements retain only a documentary interest.

To his credit Brasseur did much to promote American studies in his native France, through cofounding the Société Américaine de France (1857) and participating in the subsequent Société d'Eth-nographie and the Société de Géographie of Paris. He also raised popular consciousness concerning the indigenous peoples and civilizations of Mesoamerica through his publication of many episodes and discoveries made during his travels.

See alsoIndigenous Peoples; Mesoamerica.


Adrián Recinos, "Cien años de la llegada del Abate Brasseur de Bourbourg a Guatemala," in Anales de la Sociedad de Geografía e Historia, 29 (January-December 1956): 12-17.

Carroll Edward Mace, "Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, 1814–1874, in Handbook of Middle American Indians, vol. 13, Guide to Ethnohistorical Sources, part 2, edited by Robert Wauchope, Howard F. Cline, and John B. Glass (1973), pp. 298-325.

Additional Bibliography

Dufétel, Dominique. "Charles-Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, 1814–1874. (Accompanied by the original French and an English translation by Gregory Dechant)." Artes de México 43 (1998): 34-35.

                              Robert M. Hill II