Because of the proximity of the United States to Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies, because of their influence on the affairs of the United States; because New Orleans is the logical focal point from which to administer a program of Middle American archaeology and inter-American cultivation, the Tulane University of Louisiana created, in 1924, a Department of Middle American Research, independent from other departments and directly responsible to the President. It was later renamed the Middle American Research Institute in order to better indicate its scope and importance.
With these words, Frans Blom (M.A.R.I. Director, 1926-1940) explained in clear and precise language the unique position of advantage and responsibility Tulane University enjoys regarding the study, celebration, and defense of Middle America’s cultural and historical legacy. Since the founding of the (M.A.R.I.), it has sponsored nearly a century of ethnographic, historical, linguistic, and archaeological research in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. Countless scholars have conducted research in these countries with often spectacular results—all of whom were trained by or associated with MARI. Tulane has left an indelible mark in the scholarship of Middle American culture, archaeology and history.
Blom with Stela 1 at Uxmal, Yucatan, Mexico; 1930
Tulane’s M.A.R.I. ranks with only Harvard’s Peabody Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology as the seminal Anglo-American institutions that have encouraged, produced, and advanced this type of scholarship in this part of the world. In fact, several emulators of MARI have also developed at other Universities (such as the Vanderbilt Institute for Mesoamerican Archaeology), where scholars have found the M.A.R.I. model worthy of emulation.
Thanks to the initial and generous endowment from Samuel Zemurray in 1924, M.A.R.I. became an important contributor to this scholarly enterprise. As Blom wrote, M.A.R.I. was established to “better acquaint people of the United States with the findings of American archaeology, better to display and care for its priceless exhibits, better to finance future expeditions into Middle America, and, finally better to reveal to the Middle Americans our appreciation of their cultural treasures and our interest in them and their problems.” AS a result, Tulane’s M.A.R.I. has continually sponsored field research, managed and exhibited a world renowned museum collection, published books, and trained students. As a consequence, MARI remains one of the most respected research institutes focused on Middle American culture, archaeology, and history in the world.
Blom, LaFarge and Tata; 1925 expedition
In the modern day, the current academic stage of Middle American studies is filled with many other institutions, sponsors, and interests. However, they come and go as the vicissitudes of funding, scholarly interest, and governmental patronage affect their institutional affiliation in the area. Tulane's M.A.R.I. is among the few that be counted on for perennial presence and interest in this region. There is no contemplating the history of archaeology in Middle America without considering M.A.R.I.’s contributions. And, there should be no future without it.
For more reading, see:
Berman, Daniel S.
1995 The Middle American Research Institute: Seventy Years of Middle American Research at Tulane. Unpublished M.A. thesis, Department of Latin American Studies, Tulane University, New Orleans