a latin american history seminar

History 561

History of the Spanish Conquest


Spring 2017

Professor Chad Black

Email: cblack6-at-utk.edu

Phone: 974-9871

Office Hours: Thursdays 12:00-2:00


The Discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events in the recorded history of mankind.

-Adam Smith

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and… discovered, or destroyed, conquered, or civilized the Americas. Sixty years later, in 1552, López de Gómara, the private secretary of Hernán Cortes, wrote, “The greatest event since the creation of the world (excluding the incarnation and death of Him who created it) is the discovery of the Indies [i.e. Americas].” He was, himself, a participant the great conquest of Mexico. From the very beginning, not only the magnitude, but also the meaning of the Conquest of the Americas has been a point of controversy and acclaim. Worlds were upended. Millions of people died through the cumulative impacts of warring, labor practices, and, maybe most importantly, disease. Empires were torn down and reconstructed. Christendom was vastly expanded. And, of course, tomatoes, chiles, potatoes, silver, gold, emeralds, horses, cattle, pig, corn, and syphilis traversed the Atlantic in an epoch of unprecedented ecological exchange. Modernity itself was forged in the crucible of Conquest. The readings in this class will take us on a journey through the historiography of the Conquest, from its original Spanish and indigenous chroniclers through current approaches. Along the way we will treat the complexities, myths, and enduring legacies of the process of Spanish conquest.

Texts: Several books have been ordered for this seminar and are available for purchase at the UTK bookstore. All other readings will be available via the course website. All students should give serious consideration to purchasing James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz’s textbook Early Latin America, which will provide a general framework for understanding this period of Latin American History.

course objectives

  1. Students will build familiarity with the broader historiographic development of research on the history of the Spanish Conquest.

  2. Students will be able to identify the source base, theoretical emphases, and empirical methods that cluster across the periods of historiography of the Spanish Conquest.

  3. Students will hone their ability to analyze, synthesize, and communicate in written and oral forms these historiographic trends.

Reading, writing, and oral assignments for this course are designed to meet these three goals. In meeting them, you will also be able to place the Spanish Conquest into larger historiographic and pedagogical frameworks.



See the Assignments page for more information.

  1. Reading and Participation. Each week’s assigned readings must be completed before class. Attendance is mandatory. If you cannot make class for any reason, please contact me ahead of time.

  2. Leading Discussion (30% of grade). Each student will be responsible for leading discussion once during the semester. Students should submit via email, no later than Wednesday morning, questions or observations for discussion for that week. Discussion leaders should look at the reviews of assigned works, and figure out the intellectual lineages of the authors.

  3. Essays (70% of grade). There will be three short essay assignments for the course. The first one will review the historiographical development of weeks One through Eight. The second will review the historiographical shift in the works from weeks Eleven through Thirteen. The final essay will be a critique of Todorov’s The Conquest of the Americas due at the end of the semester, based on the semester’s readings.


Qualified students with disabilities needing appropriate academic adjustments should contact me as soon as possible to ensure that your needs are met in a timely manner with appropriate documentation.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism occurs when someone knowingly or unknowingly presents another person’s words or ideas as his or her own. Any work turned in for this class must meet University standards for academic honesty. Any students unsure about how to apply these rules are urged to consult with me prior to turning in any written work.

Deadlines: Assignments are due no later than the day and time indicated. If you anticipate problems, please contact me before the assignment is due, not after!

Office Hours: Students are strongly encouraged to speak with me outside of class. I am available during office hours on a first-come, first-served basis. If you cannot come during office hours, please contact me via email or phone to schedule an appointment.