Purpose: As I discuss in the lecture below, the events that led to the establishment of Spanish colonial authority in Mexico were relevant at the time (of course) but also for later European colonial invasions, and then for modern Mexican politics. As a result, understanding why it happened as it did is important even beyond the history of Mexico. Nevertheless, considering that—until the 1950s—many of our sources were written by the Spanish, we tend to have a one-sided view of these events. In this discussion, we’ll critique one such view and try and do better.
Task: Read the following excerpt from a 2012 Glencoe/McGraw Hill high-school world history textbook. In your first post, consider the myths I discuss in the lecture, and that Townsend discusses in the reading. What myths do you see operating in the textbook excerpt? How?
Read lecture below:
Good afternoon, everyone and welcome back to LH 4430, history of Mexico. In this module, we’ll be focusing on what gets called the conquest of Mexico,the Aztec Spanish War, basically the beginnings of the colonial period. And our readings this week, Camilla Townsend will give us, I think a very, very good, a veryuseful description sort of from, from the Michigan side of things. Show emphasize for instance, the role of a woman known as danielle Medina are nowadays Lama Ligia as an intermediary between the Spaniards and the machines. But for the purposes of this lecture, what I’d like to do is give you all a couple of other historiansexplanations of why exactly the conquest happened as it did. Townsend does you all will see, will emphasize sort of the, the, the importance of Spain’s long history of agriculture and, and development compared with that of Mesoamerica. However, I think it’s useful to take a look at a couple of other factors, maybe to give us a little bit more of a nuanced understanding of why the conquest happened as it did. And we can start off by talking about what’s important. Now this may seem likea pretty obvious question. Alright, well, why, why do we need to talk about the beginning of the colonial periodand the history of Mexico. Glass, pretty obvious. But I think we can think about the importance of talking about these events and a couple of different ways. First, as NGA cleaned in and reminds us here, the conquest was important in its own time as well. Because quoting her here, because it provided the Spaniards and Europeans first great paradigm, the first framework forEuropean encounters with an organized native state, end quote, something that wouldn’t unfortunately continue to repeat itself the next three to 400 years or thereabouts. We can also talk about the importance of these events nowadays, not only and shaping the Mexico we, we will be talking about for the rest of the semester. But also as a, as a political event, right?Interpreting the conquest is actually still very much a political issue. So for instance, the last time I taught this course, conveniently, Mexico’s current President, guy named Andreas Manuel Lopez Lord, who we’ll be getting to towards the end of a semester, called for an apology from Spain for the events of the conquest. And this provoked no shortage of controversy. Mexican and Spanish twitter that week were just crazy about the sort of the role and the legacy of Spain and the conquest. So lest we think we’re just talking about things that happened 500 years ago. Sort of what, what these things mean today and sort of how they’re, sort of how we understand them is actually still very much a political issue. And third, another thing, another reason I want to sort of emphasize these points is because of the persistence of what the archaeologist, Michael Wilcox working in North America has called terminal narratives. These he defines as quote. Accounts of Indian histories which explain the absence, cultural death, or disappearance of indigenous peoples. And quote, I highlight this idea of a, of a terminal narrative here. Because there are narratives that we sort of sometimes sneak into popular discourse and ideas about indigenous Mexico and indigenous and the United States for that matter. Sometimes without us even realizing it. What I want to highlight, once again, as I did last week, is that the diverse indigenous cultures of Mexico, including ones we haven’t gotten to yet, do not disappear at any point during this period. But will there be what historians sometimes diplomatically called demographic collapse, a massive death toll? Yes. Does that mean that indigenous cultures just disappear or that the indigenous cultures that exist today are somehow less authentic or original than those that existed at the time of the conquest? No, it doesn’t. That’s a theme will continue to develop over the course of the rest of the semester. But I wanted to again drawyour attention to it by, by naming these accounts.Terminal narratives that we might sometimes start to slip in, might recognize out there in the world if we’re not careful. So interpreting the Aztec Spanish War, sort of why it went down the way it did, is kind of a challenge.As anger clean Denon, again puts it. The conquest of Mexico matters to us because it was a painful question.How was it that a motley bunch of Spanish adventurersnever numbering more than, much more than 400 or so,was able to defeat a military power on its home ground in the space of two years. Alright? And so over the course, over the past 500 years, as you might imagine,scholars and others have advanced a number ofdifferent theories to explain this happened. Perhaps the most prevalent, perhaps the most insidious one, is what sometimes gets called the conquistador math and content and again puts it quote, Europeans will triumph over natives. However formidable the apparent oddsbecause of cultural superiority, manifesting itself visibly and equipment, but residing much more powerfully and mental and moral qualities input. So if, if, if ever you’ve heard of the Aztecs being described as savage or a tribe.That’s really kind of playing into this myth. Here on the questions for last week. I think Alice put it well in her contribution to the discussion. So she said that in my elementary and middle school, the term Aztec was usedto describe the native people that are non Cortes conquered to expand the Spanish empire. I remember vaguely remember learning much more about the Spanish and I’ve, I did about the Aztec. Think that’s true of most folks. As they were referred to as a savage tribe that fought against the Spanish until they were conquered. These sorts of characterizations of the, of the machine, as we should have gotten from Townsend, are inaccurate. And in this context they’re playing into a myth of European cultural or historical superiority. I think this myth is maybe much more common than we might even realize. And in the Canvas discussion this week, I’ll be asking you to look for examples of that math and how to change it in a high school history textbook. Another kind of myth, fairly common, also kind of insidious, is what Camila Townsend in earlier work has called the White God’s myth. You might have heard of this one as well because it’s pretty common.The myth is that the, the Aztecs believed that Cortes was a god. That the Spaniards were God. And their return had been prophesied for that particular year. So this, This one’s also kind of insidious. I leave it to towns into do much explanation because she probably more than any other scholar who spent years debunking this one. But effectively it, it’s still kind of paints the Aztecs in a certain way for certain reasons. But it’s also sort of a historically it’s not correct, right? There’s no mention of this, of this idea and Cortez’s on letters. But also it would have negative effects that continue to affect the way we understand the Michigan today. But we’ll get more of that from the readings. What I’d like to focus on for the purposes of this lecture. Couple of other factors that I think we sort of get to into and Townsend, but other scholars have worked as well. So for this account, I’ll be drawing on the historian Matthew rest all,particularly his seven myths of the Spanish conquest.Although he just came out with a book like last year called when Cortez met Moctezuma. The deals with this and sort of and much more specific, much more specific way. But generally I think some of the points he makes are useful. He’ll, he’ll tell us specifically about the role of disease, the importance of the Michigan political organization, and certain kinds of weaponry. A fourth factor actually comes to us from the, some of you may have seen this one if you’ve taken LH to 93 with me, this is the John Charles testing born in blood and fire. It’s actually enter a Latin American history textbook. But he, he emphasizes specifically the role of what, what I would call information asymmetry in a way that others don’t. So I think that one’s actually worth talking about a little bit too. So think about these four things I’ll talk about and sort of compare them with Townsend’s account is what I’m looking for you to do with this information. But so what do I mean specifically? First off, the question of disease is also kind of popularly advanced as an explanation for why the conquest went down the way it did. Particularly, because of the devastating impact of, of these illnesses particularly. Or just making sure I have my notes to particularly smallpox and measles. By most all accounts. The first generations after the conquest, in epidemiological terms, were devastating. So in different parts of the country, the demographic impact was massive. So for instance, along the Gulf Coast, what today is the state of better clothes? We’re looking at a decline as, as much as 90% of the population. Perhaps one of the most impressive, tragic examples. The city of some voila Townsend may mentioned it briefly about simple Allah was a total speaking down a tributary of the triple alliance. That was one of the, one of the first sort of city is visited by Cortez over the course of the conquest.Simple Ella and 15-19 are based on the machine goesrecords had about 20 thousand tributaries where people who were paying tribute to the, to the, the, sorry, to the Triple Alliance. A decade later, 1529, the number of tributaries had declined to 20. Alright, so, so in the case of some Paula specifically, we’re talking about 20 thousand people down to 20. That is a decline. Had to double-check the calculator to make sure I wasn’t exaggerating. But of 99.9%. And that city justdevastating almost sort of in world historical terms.Now. And another put now, this does not mean that on the golf course or elsewhere, everyone disappeared right there still token X speaking people today. But it does mean the, sort of the very basic level, the machine,because of the ability to resist the Spanish incursions over the course of the war was, wasn’t produced fairly quickly. So for instance, the archaeologist, Michael Smith has calculated that in the base of the Mexico right, sort of the core Aztec homelands, the population dropped from 1.6 million to 900 thousand, just over the course of the war, were talking about three years. So, and we will be, will be reading in towns and a little bit sort of how the, how the machine understood andsuffered from the impact of these epidemics. Now, second, in addition to disease, we have a certain, there are certain things that we can consider about the Michigan political strategies, right? The way they organize the Michigan State. That also made, made the empire of vulnerable in certain ways to, to the Spaniards and reduce their efficacy in terms of fighting. So at this point it’s in historical terms. And even in that textbook Imentioned, I’m going to have you read. It’s, it’s fairly wellknown that the Spaniards depended heavily on indigenous, on their Indigenous allies, enemies of the machine. So rest all calculates that this was between 70 thousand, even as many as 200 thousand plus columntotal 11ac and to Lu Lin allies, who we should remember their allies there. We’re also using the Spaniards to their own ends. How to get out from under the Aztecs rule.Now if we remember, the Aztecs were kind of latecomers to the basin of Mexico where we’re kind of late and Mezzo American history from around the 13 hundreds. When we started reading about Tenochtitlan, last module. To 15-19. That’s really only around 200 years, right? And then that 200 years they had conquered in some way, much of what we now know as Mesoamerica. Thing is when they conquered, they practiced a strategy of what we would call from the outside, uh, one of indirect rule. So in contrast to empires that practice direct rule from, from the, from history, the Romans and the Incan empires or some of the best-known. So like when the Romans, when nconquered territory, they would do things like build roads, build up political institution, form settlements, et cetera. It goes, they were interested in acquiringterritory that might shake or were interested more in the question of, of tribute. They were interested in tribute goods, including sacrificial captives among other types of goods. So when they conquered a place, they would, they would arrive, they would gather. What happened was, there was a very formal sort of stylized way of conducting ritual warfare, right? Some of the flowery wars that we’ve read about. But in terms of conquest, what they would often do is either try and convince the City-State to, to surrender the alt epic or replace the ruler, right? So they might sort of take out the, the, the local ruler, his family, enslave them or other,and put their own folks in charge. However, they were generally content to sort of live and let live as long as they were getting their tribute right? Now if a play stop playing tribute, tried to resist, then they would come and repeat the process, get conquered again. So what that meant was that the Aztecs had got a lot of tributefrom a lot of places because they were very effective, very effective warriors. However, what that also makes for is a lot of discontent, especially on the other provinces of the empire. And among these Discontents where the total 11ac and live in the tokamak is a, is a different language, right? They, they belong to different ethnic group, the Zulu lens for another. Now our group, speaking the water-like Michigan. So they had beenconquered and made tributaries. The Tlaxcalans had continued to resist Aztec incursions and were sort of able to maintain their independence. But only by, by sortof continuously having to fend off the Aztecs and sending captives for sacrifice and that sort of thing. So when the Spaniards arrived and presented themselvesas going off to deal with to conquer them Ashuka, they certainly found willing allies among these people. Now, nowadays, this question gets kind of complicated if we use our own categories of that we have today to talkabout indigenous people for instance. And we project them back into the past. We sort of wonder like how could, how could different, how could indigenous peoples side with the Spaniards to, to conquer their, their counterparts. Alright, I really like Townsend’s explanation of this, so I’m going to paraphrase it. Maybe a little bit worse than she does, but just to give you an idea. So the idea of indigeneity that we have today, or even the category of India and that the Spaniards woulddevelop a generation or two after the conquest didn’t really exist during this time period. When people in Mesoamerica identified themselves. Probably the principal form of self-identification was through demand. M’s right, a fancy way of saying the name yourself by the place where you’re from, right? So Tallahassee and so in this case a, a Tallahassee in, consider themselves very different from say, a will colon, right? We don’t tend to identify quite this much and those ways as much nowadays. But for Mesoamerican cultures, this was critical, right?Mesoamerica was just the world. There was not a sense in the way that we’re talking about it of Mesoamerican cultures, indigenous cultures, all these terms I’ve been using. So there was really no contradiction for these, for these Tlaxcalans to ally with the Spaniards against the machine. Because they were, they were enemies, right?They were foreigners. This would also explain why, as we’ll see in a second, there were so many now whatparticipants and the conquest of the Maya region, right?A normal person from class scala say, would not have considered themselves as having anything in common with a Maya person from the ten and in Guatemala, for example. And we’ll see how that plays out here shortly.So keep that in mind. As you, as you do the Townsend readings as well. Now, the, the other important factor here is weaponry. Although maybe not in the way thatwe might be accustomed to thinking. So generally, when people think of the Spanish technological superiority,such as it was, people tend to emphasize guns, right?Horses, dogs. But importantly, a lot of these were kind of limited use, especially early in the war, though. There weren’t that many horses. There weren’t that many dogs. Guns were relatively less effective than you might think we’re talking about to the very old school ARCA buses, different kinds of Matlock white brands that were not quite as effective in some cases as the crossbows. But the one way, the one sort of area and what’s the Spanish could be said to have a really decisivetechnological advantage was when it came to steal, right? So different Mesoamerican cultures practice metallurgy. Metal working typically for, typically for ornamental and ceremonial purposes, right? Think Goldsmith ang, silver smoothing generally not to make weapons. So Spanish steel was harder, more durable.And Obsidian, though it can, obsidian is very sharp.Obsidian that the Aztecs used to make weaponry is still used today in some cases to make surgical scalpels. I think if I remember the statistic right, it can be filed to an edge ten times sharper than that of steel. Don’t quote me on that, but that there’s an illustration. But obsidian shatters against, against steel breastplate, right? It’s a volcanic glass. At the same time, the armorsuch as it was for the Michigan and their allies, was padded cloth, right, which does not hold up against steel. So the Spaniards did have some very distinct technological advantages, but they might be less thanwe, than we think. The other interesting thing I think is sort of helpful to think about here is to try and put all this in the context of what was going on at the time. So Columbus had, had sort of began colonizing and slaving indigenous peoples. The Taino and the error walk in today’s Hispaniola, Padian, the Dominican Republic, back in 1492. Alright. Cortez’s EX, expedition lands in 15181519, right? That’s one thing, sort of Stargate rolling. In other words, the Spaniards had been in the New World for about a generation. And importantly,they knew what they wanted to write. This often gets, gets sort of glossed as the three Gs Write Gold. God, glory, right? They wanted wealth. They wanted to evangelize, and they wanted, they wanted social status.Many of the conquistador is, we’re sort of in social terms that were kinda nobody’s, right. So they were, they were looking to move up in the world by participating in the conquest. The same time, many were devout Catholics.And here the search for the urge to evangelize on the search for gold actually kind of went hand in hand. Using our modern categories to think back. It seems like kind of a contradiction. But during the time, it wasn’t if they finding gold, finding ways these empires and allowing them to conquering these places, and what sort of evidence that God had favor them. And in turn, theywould be able to use that gold, would be able to evangelize. And thanks to God for what He hadprovided, Right? So the Spaniards knew what they wereafter in this period. Whereas as we will read and Townsend at first, especially during the first couple ofmonths of the Conquest, the Michigan, their alliescouldn’t quite figure out what they were up against.Alright, as we’ll see, Looking at things from our Michigan worldview, the Spaniards did things very, very differently. And in fact, this will read they were really,they were pretty rude even before the violence started.They were not acting according to my Sheikh ideals of politeness of honor. And it took them a chic us some time to figure out sort of what these folks we’re really after. And by that time we start to see the impacts of disease, we start to see the importance of weaponry.And I think thinking about this as an information asymmetry, right? One side having more information than the other also kind of helps to explain why the conquest went down the way it did. Now that being said,it didn’t have to write, Townsend will provide us with a couple of interesting thought experiments, right? What if the Spaniards hadn’t had as skilled an interpreter as doing anybody? Nah. But for an example of how this, of how sort of philosophical terms, why this was contingent. I could have gone down differently rather than necessary. I had to go down that way. We can actually take a look at what was happening in the Southof what’s now Mexico in the Maya region. So less lest we think that the Spaniards were always going to win. That this was pre-ordained, that it had to happen this way. As an early, earlier generations of historians might’ve thought. We can look at the my resume for an exampleof just how true that is not right. So the conquest of the Maya region as such begins with Diego muscle Diego’s and the establishment of the city. We now know a sank restore by their last cost us around 1527, 15-20, eight.However, the first invasions of the Yucatan Peninsula bitfurther south by Francisco de Monty Hall in 1527. Fails, right? He’s, he, he attempts to found a city, which for the Spaniards was sort of the, the first thing you do if you’re trying to civilize some or you find a syrup, you found a city. It failed, miserably failed. He was driven out, he came back and 1531, slightly more successful in that he’s able to establish a shortly lived settlement. This driven out again by 1534. And it wasn’t until his son,actually Francisco de motto, who are the younger. And the third time that the Spaniards, Spaniards are actually able to even establish a foothold in Yucatan. So examples from what is going on just south and my region show that the Spaniards victory was not at all preordained. It didn’t have to go down that way for them, Ashuka, because it did not go down this way for the Maya either. Looking at the conquest of the Maya region also offers us another interesting, in this case,literal illustration of the importance of Indigenous allies and collaborators in the conquest. So Cortez dispatchedPedro de Alvarado and 15-24, 15-25, to conquer Guatemala. Just a couple of years later. Noah. But nowadays we would call them mercenaries or allies.Produced a document to try and explain just how important they were to the success of the conquest.And so if we take a look at the, what’s called the liens or quiet joy on. We can see a couple of clear examples here of standards. We see, we see the horses. We see what looks like a medieval Spanish dress with c hats. We see beards, VBE across flag, metal spears. But in the Spaniards entourage, we also see now our allies. Alright, we see, we see novel style head dresses. And we see the same further down. We see Warriors attire, not sort of in Spanish press placed some battle gear, but in indigenous, in this case, probably plus colon, a tire. And we see them here, for instance, fighting alongside the Spaniards to conquer what we now know as Guatemala.And here in case you’re curious, all of these little, all these little symbols here are top an EMS ripe and the names of particular towns in particular places they conquered. So the colons among other NWA were critical to the success of these efforts. And they knew it. As we’ll see during the colonial period. The plus Collins especially would get very good at leveraging their participation in the conquest to ask for certain privileges from the crown. And as perhaps a finalillustration of how this, of how sort of uneven along this process was, especially in the case of the Maya region.The last independent Maya polity, the last independent city-state, doesn’t actually fall until 16971697. We’re talking nearly 200 years after this process more or less begins, begins in the Caribbean. So lest we think about the conquest. Conquest as like a single thing that had to happen the way it did because the Spanish, the Spanish were better. For example, when we actually look in detail at places like the Maya region. And what we actually get into the nuts and bolts of the relative advantage of the Spaniards over them, a sugar. We see that it, it was not predetermined. Alright, there were a lot of things that could have changed. There are a lot of reasons. It could have gone other ways. And b, but there was a an uneven and long-term process. All right. These will be some of the takeaways that I want to remind us.And the module description. Sorry about that. It sounds like they’re mowing or something outside, but I’m bout to the end of the half-hour here. Thank you for your participation. So far. I’ve enjoyed reading andresponding to the questions you’ve posed in the lectures. For this one, we’ll take a look at the Canvas discussion for it, but I would be curious to hear a little bit. Do you remember from high school, middle school,for instance, an explanation of the conquest. How so few Spaniards were able to conquer the Michigan. The aspects that would be something you could respond to and the Canvas discussion. But otherwise, I’ll do my best to keep up with those responses and look forward to reading more of them. I thank you. Have a good rest of the day.