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.

Helen Burgos Ellis holds a Ph.D. in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Helen 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, 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 Texas Press is currently reviewing her book titled, Aztec Science: Plant Sexuality and the Domestication of Maize in the Codex Borgia, which is an interdisciplinary endeavor introducing a radical approach to the study of the pre-Columbian Aztec (Eastern Nahua) art. It relates the scientific literature on maize (corn) domestication to the analysis of maize and related imagery in the Codex Borgia to offer a brand new interpretation. She argues with scientific (particularly biological and archaeological), ethnographic, and iconographic evidence that the Codex Borgia and other indigenous artifacts record information about pollination, plant sexuality, and the domestication of maize. To develop the ideas advanced in this work, 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 art as well as modern Mexican and Mesoamerican literature. Ellis also works as a Research Assistant in the Scholars Program at the Getty Research Institute. The Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Santiago, Chile, has invited her to present her paper titled “Did the Aztecs use Sulfuric Acid? The Evidence Provided by the Six Burned Pages of the Codex Borgia” at the IX Jornadas de Historia del Arte in Valparaíso, Chile in October 2016. The paper will be published in the conference’s proceedings (forthcoming).

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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