Helen Ellis


Contact Information

Email    HEllis@getty.edu
Office  7268 Bunche Hall
Phone  (310) 206-7695
Helen Burgos Ellis holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Burgos Ellis, a native of El Salvador, trained as an art historian at UCLA and her research interests include pre-Columbian and early-colonial manuscripts, indigenous peoples (from the pre-Columbian to the modern period), Nahuatl (the lingua franca of the Aztecs), maize and other plant imagery in indigenous art, domestication of maize, history of science, interaction between art and science in both the Americas and early modern Europe, as well as material culture in the Spanish empire and early modern Europe.


The University of Oklahoma Press is currently reviewing her book titled, Aztec Science: Plant Sexuality, Pollination, and the Origin of Maize in the pre-Columbian Codex Borgia, which is an interdisciplinary endeavor introducing a radical approach to the study of the pre-Columbian art. It relates the scientific literature on maize (corn) domestication to the analysis of maize and related imagery in the Codex Borgia as well as other Mesoamerican artifacts to offer a brand new interpretation. She argues with evidence from science, etymology, ethnography, and iconography that the Codex Borgia and other Aztec (also Nahua and/or Mexica) artifacts record information about pollination, plant sexuality, and the domestication of maize. To develop the ideas advanced in this book, she conducted extensive archival, museum, and field research in indigenous communities throughout Mexico thanks to a Fulbright-Hays/IIE Fellowship 2011–12 generously funded by the Mellon Foundation.


Currently, she is a lecturer in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at both UCLA and CSULA where she teaches courses on indigenous peoples and their art as well as on modern Latin American and Mesoamerican literature. Burgos Ellis also works as a Research Assistant in the Scholars Program at the Getty Research Institute.


Burgos Ellis is currently finishing up two articles. One, with the working title: “Will the Real Coyolxauhqui Please Stand Up? Significance of Her Representations in Image and Text,” examines how scholars of pre-Columbian art have analyzed this Aztec goddess and how Chicanx artists and scholars have enriched discussions and representations of Coyolxauhqui. The second article has the working title “Pre-Columbian Science: The Domestication of Maize Recorded in Aztec Art,” and analyzes the esteemed status that the Nahuas accorded a common grass. The article points out that the Aztecs and all Mesoamericans revered this grass because they knew it to be the progenitor of maize (corn).


In 2017, the Khan Academy and Smarthistory.org, asked her to become a contributor, see her essay “Codex Borgia” at: Smarthistory, September 11, 2017 https://smarthistory.org/codex-borgia/; and Khan Academy, September 2017 https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/early-cultures/aztec-mexica/a/codex-borgia



Ph.D., Art History, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 2015


M.A., Latin American Studies, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 2009 Concentrations: Art History, History, and Spanish-American Literature Honors: Graduated with Departmental Honors B.A., History, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 1998 Honors: Graduated with College Honors

Fields of Study

Major Area of Study: Pre-Columbian Art