About Me

Laura2013I am a historian of early modern Guatemala and associate professor of Latin American history at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A. I’m interested in how people recreate community, identity, and attachment to place after long migrations and/or in radically changed circumstances.

I’ve published two books about Mesoamerican allies of the Spanish conquistadors in Central America, Memories of Conquest and Indian Conquistadors. I also created the digital archive Nahuatl/Nawat in Central America with programmer Michael Bannister.

I have a beautiful family that never complains when I disappear into the archive.

You can reach me at
laura.matthew@marquette.edu or laura.matthew@gmail.com

Please see my statement on the firing of AGCA director Anna Carla Ericastilla and the endangered Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional below, under Dept. of Dislocated Documents.


moc-copy Memories of Conquest, winner of the 2013 Howard F. Cline Memorial Prize and the 2013 Murdo MacLeod Prize, tells the story of thousands of Nahuas and Oaxacans who invaded Guatemala alongside the Spanish in the 1520s. Some remained in Central America as colonists, and created a new ethnic identity for themselves as “Mexicanos.” It was published in Spanish as Memorias de conquista: De indígenas conquistadores a mexicanos en la Guatemala colonial.

As itindian-conquistadors-copy turned out, other scholars were noticing similar patterns throughout the region. Hence the edited volume I did with Michel Oudijk in 2007, Indian Conquistadors.

My current research looks at the circulation of goods and people along the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, Guatemala, and El Salvador from the fifteenth to the early seventeenth centuries. I’m also working with archaeologist William Fowler to compare the messy military, environmental, and diplomatic realities of the earliest Spanish settlements in Central America: the two Ciudad Viejas of Guatemala and El Salvador.

In addition to generous support from Marquette, I have received grants and fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies; the American Philosophical Society; the Newberry Library (Mellon Long Term Fellowship); the U.S. Department of Education (Fulbright-Hays); and the Research Institute for the Study of Man.



Dept. of Dislocated Documents


Remembering Madre Rosa

MadreRosa Tumba

In 1951, at age 33, Maryknoll Sister Dorothy (Rosa Cordis) Erickson graduated from Marquette University’s medical school (now the Medical College of Wisconsin). Ten years later she was assigned to the town of Jacaltenango in the Cuchumatanes mountains of Guatemala, where she was joined in 1963 by Milwaukee native and fellow Maryknoll doctor Sister Jane (Juana) Buellesbach. Other Maryknoll sisters followed, many of them also Marquette graduates.

Working together, the community of Jacaltenango and the Maryknolls built a 50-bed hospital, eighteen clinics, and a regional training program for nurses, midwives, and health promoters. By 1987 the hospital had cared for 12,686 inpatients, served 475,889 outpatients, immunized 182,117 children — and had survived the town’s military occupation during the worst years of Guatemala’s civil war.

“Remembering Madre Rosa” is a multi-year undergraduate research project to reconnect the Marquette University community with this history. I’m immensely proud of inaugural 2017-19 team Janet Peña, Francisco Hernández, Isabel Piedra, Luis Jiménez, and Ricardo Fernández for their foundational work at the Maryknoll Mission Archives in New York and in Jacaltenango, and 2019-20 team members Isabelle Soto, José Ortíz, Marycruz Sánchez, and Eddie Godina as they prepare an exhibit opening April 2020.