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Department of Anthropology

Dr Laughlin in Mexico with man in chair
Dr Laughlin in his office at SI


Robert M. Laughlin

Curator Emeritus

Division: Ethnology

Area of Specialization:
Mesoamerican Ethnology

Fax:  202-357-2208
E-mail Address:
Department of Anthropology Mailing Address


Ph.D. in Anthropology, Harvard University (1963)
M.A. in Anthropology, Harvard University
B.A. in English, Princeton University

Professional Activities:

Founder, Sna Jtz’ibajom (The House of the Writer), a Tzotzil-Tzeltal writers’ cooperative (1983)
Honorary Member of the Maya Educational Foundation.

Reseach Interests/Profile:

His major research interest is in modern and colonial Tzotzil lexicography, Tzotzil oral history, worldview, dreams, prayers, ethnobotany and history. As a pioneer in advocacy anthropology he has sought to give a voice to the Chiapas Mayas, and has seen to it that a majority of his work has been published in Tzotzil and Spanish, as well as in English.

His field work in Mexico has focused on the Mazatec in Oaxaca and Veracruz states and the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya in Chiapas. He received the Premio Chiapas in Science in 2002 and the PEN Gregory Kolovakos Award for the translation of Spanish (including native American) literature in 2004.

Selected Publications:

Dr. Laughlin is the author of over 50 articles, and eight books. His The great Tzotzil dictionary of San Lorenzo Zinacantán, published in 1975, with 30,000 entries, was the most comprehensive dictionary of a native American language. Selections from his published collections of tales and dreams were made by Carol Karasik for The people of the bat: Mayan tales and dreams from Zinacantán (1988), reprinted in 1996 as Mayan tales from Zinacantán: Dreams and stories from The People of the Bat. Together with John B. Haviland, Dr. Laughlin published The great Tzotzil dictionary of Santo Domingo Zinacantán, a sixteenth dictionary that has proved to be of great use to epigraphers deciphering pre-Columbian Mayan hieroglyphs.

With Dennis E. Breedlove, he is the author of The flowering of man: a Tzotzil botany of Zinacantán (1993). An abridged edition appeared in 2000. He created a handmade book, Mayan Hearts, with its Spanish edition, El diccionario del corazón (2002), which is a love story using 16th century Tzotzil heart metaphors. The Mexican Department of Education has printed a paperback of the latter and distributed it to the libraries of every middle school of Mexico. Dr. Laughlin translated and reviewed historically the longest existing colonial Tzotzil document, an 1812 proclamation by the Spanish government, exhorting the colonists not to join Napoleon – Beware the great horned serpent: Chiapas under the threat of Napoleon (2003). A Spanish edition of the San Lorenzo dictionary, including plant names from The flowering of man, has just appeared. This dictionary of what has become “grandfather Tzotzil,” is being offered by the Mexican government at less than $5 so that it can reach the Mayan population.

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