1. Introduction (Aug 20)
  2. Premodern Societies I (Aug 25)
  3. Premodern Societies II (Sep 1)
  4. Premodern Societies III (Sep 8)
  5. The Early Conquest (Sep 15)
  6. On the Mainland (Sep 22)
  7. Conquest On-Going (Sep 29)
  8. The Order of Things (Oct 6)
  9. Captivity and Enslavements (Oct 13)
  10. Native Labor and Accumulation (Oct 20)
  11. Love, Hate, and Social Reproduction (Oct 27)
  12. Disruption and Reform (Nov 3)
  13. Rebellion and Reaction (Nov 10)
  14. Independence (Nov 17)
  15. New World Orders (Nov 24)

Introduction (Aug 20)

Welcome (back) to the History of Early Latin America. This week, your only responsibility is to carefully read over the syllabus, the course requirements, and to plan for you participation in class! Make sure you understand what the coursework requirements are, and also some general recommendations on how to read, take notes, and think about weekly material.

This semester, I’ve decided not to assign a general textbook for this class. I hope that the decision will save you some money, but it also puts the onus on you to join our synchronous sessions and follow through with the other work. My lectures will essentially function as your textbook– providing the overview necessary to situate and understand your readings. Again, it is imperative that you come to class, and that you take notes. You are responsible for everything we discuss in the lecture. This means, you really need to take notes.

If you struggle with note-taking, or have never taken a humanities lecture course before, you will need to think about, and put effort into improving your note-taking. Take a look at these resources, and find a system that works best for you:

  1. Effective Note-taking in Lectures.
  2. The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard.
  3. How to Take Better Notes.

In addition to taking notes during lecture, you need to be an active reader of the pieces we’re assigning. This means using either paper or pdf tools to highlight and markup the assignments. We will be discussing this over the course of the semester, especially how to approach strange texts with unfamiliar concepts.

Premodern Societies I (Aug 25)

The immigrants to what we now call the Americas by land and cruising the coasts. The civilizations that evolved from their wanderings were highly complex and advanced. We begin the semester considering their emergence, and the revolutionary domestication of Zea mays that made it possible. To this day, there is no single crop or animal more central to the US economy and its food system than corn.

This week we look at commonalities among most premodern societies, and then at the Maya.

Live Lecture: On Sedentary Societies

  • Mann, Charles C. “1491” The Atlantic Monthly (March 2002).

The Maya

Please watch Popol Vuh, and my own brief lecture on Canvas.

  • Thompson, J. Eric. “The Meaning of Maize for the Maya.” in Gilbert M. Joseph and Timothy J. Henderson, eds., The Mexico Reader: History, Culture, Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), pp. 86-91.

  • Anonymous. “The Popul Vuh.” In Joseph and Henderson, eds., The Mexico Reader, pp. 79-85.


Premodern Societies II (Sep 1)

The collapse of Classical Maya society did not mean the disappearance of the Maya. Indeed, Maya-speaking communities continue to form integral parts of Mexican and Guatemalan society today, along with other Central American states. This week, we consider the successors and inheritors of the Mesoamerican cultural world once dominated by the Maya, with the rise of the Mexica in the central valley of Mexico. Then, we turn to South America for an introduction to the third great sedentary empire of the pre-Conquest period, the Inka of the Andes. As you read and attend lecture this week, consider the influence of environmental factors on the emergence of these civilizations along with their religious and social practices.

Live: Mexica

  • Burkhardt, Louise M. “Mexica Women on the Home Front: Housework and Religion in Aztec Mexico” in Schroeder, Susan et al. Indian Women of Early Mexico, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997), pp. 25-54.

Asynch: Inka

  • Mary Strong, Art, Nature, and Religion in the Central Andes (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 2012): pp. 17-58.


Premodern Societies III (Sep 8)

With a foundation in the pre-Conquest Americas, this week we turn to the Iberian Peninsula, the close-in Atlantic islands, and to Africa to look at the roots of conquest in the so-called “Old World.” Consider the culture of conquest cultivated by Isabella and Ferdinand in the 1490s, and also what lessons Iberians learned of conquest and expansion in their control of Atlantic Islands and the trade in enslaved captives with West Africa.

Live: Across the Atlantic

  • “Las Siete Partidas: Laws on Jews.”

  • “King Ferdinand, Marriage Concessions (1469)” in Jon Cowans, ed. Early Modern Spain: A Documentary History (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003): 7-9.

  • “Surrender Treaty of the Kingdom of Granada (1491)” in Cowans, Early Modern Spain: 15-19.

  • “Decree of Expulsion of the Jews (1492)” in Cowans, Early Modern Spain: 20-23.


  • John K. Thornton, “The African Background,” A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250–1820 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012), pp. 60-100.


The Early Conquest (Sep 15)

Prior to sailing across the Atlantic, Columbus learned from Portuguese and Spanish expansion into the Atlantic Islands and down the coast of Africa economic models for colonial exploitation. Conquering and enslaving native populations, importing captive Africans for enslaved labor, cultivating sugar for export to Europe, and improving sea-going technology were all in place before he received Royal support. This week, we look at the transplantation of an Atlantic model of conquest and exploitation to the Caribbean, and at its religious critics. Pay close attention to the arguments made by Friars Montesinos, Pane, and de las Casas, and whether they offer an alternative colonial model, or an alternative to colonialism?

Live: Caribbean Conquests

  • Christopher Columbus’s Log, excerpted in English. Focus on period after Oct. 11.

  • The Requerimiento

Asynch: The Critique

Here are three critiques from early on, and Laws that the Crown promulgated in response.

  • Bartolomé de Las Casas, Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, excerpt.

  • Antonio Montesinos, “Advent Sermon”

  • “The Relación of Fray Ramón Pane (c. 1494-1496)”

  • “The Laws of Burgos. 1512-1513”


On the Mainland (Sep 22)

In the 1520s and 1530s, the Spanish Empire expanded to cover much of Central and South America. At the time, Spaniards and their native allies both imagined themselves as conquering the controlling empires of Mesoamerica and the Andes. Who, then, conquered whom? In the early 16th century, did native allies with the Spanish imagine themselves as collaborators in European domination? If not, what did they imagine they were doing?

Live: Conquest Myths and Realities

  • Matthew Restall, et. al., Mesoamerican Voices: Native-Language Writings from Colonial Mexico, Oaxaca, Yucatan, and Guatemala (Cambridge: 2005): Chapter 3.

  • “The Spaniards’ Entry into Tenochtitlan,” The Mexico Reader, 97-104.

  • For a fantastic graphic novel approach to telling this story, check out the five episodes so far written and drawn at Aztec Empire. This graphic novel version of the Conquest works hard to be faithful to the visual world and recent historical scholarship on Cortes’s march from the sea.


  • Patricia Seed, “Failing to Marvel: Atahualpa’s Encounter with the Word,” Latin American Research Review 26.1 (1991): 7-32.


Conquest On-Going (Sep 29)

Did the conquest end? Does it continue today in some form?

Live: Oñate’s Foot

  • no new readings.

Due Friday by midnight: Take-Home Exam

The Order of Things (Oct 6)

How do you build an empire on the collapsing foundation of native society? How did early modern imperialists confront the technological and practical challenges of ruling the span of the globe?

Live: Building on collapsing ground

  • Suzanne Alchon, “Colonialism, Disease, and the Spanish Conquest of the Carribbean, Mesoamerica, and the Central Andes,” in A Pest in the Land: New World Epidemics in a Global Perspective (Univ. of NM Press, 2003): 60-82.

  • J.L Phelan, “Authority and Flexibility in the Spanish Imperial Bureaucracy” Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 5, No. 1, Special Issue on Comparative Public Administration. (Jun., 1960), pp. 47-65.


  • Martin Nesvig, Promiscuous Power, “Burning Down the House, in Which the spiritual Conquistadors Go to War with Each Other.”


Captivity and Enslavements (Oct 13)

From its inception, the Spanish and Portuguese colonial projects depended on the labor of enslaved Africans. As Kris Lane argues, slave owners even pinned their hopes for the afterlife on enslaved labor after death. Pay close attention this week to strategies that enslaved and free blacks pursued in colonial Latin America.

Live: A Society Built on Slavery

  • Kris Lane, “Captivity and Redemption: Aspects of Slave Life in early Colonial Quito and Popoyan,” The Americas 57.2 (2000), 225-246.

Aynch: Jane Landers, “Felipe Edimboro Sues for Manumission, Don Francisco Xavier Sánchez contests (Florida, 1794),” in Colonial Lives, pp. 249-268.


Native Labor and Accumulation (Oct 20)

Enslavement was not the only form of coerced labor exploited by Iberian empires. This week we consider the effects of encomienda and tribute on the integrity of native communities under Iberian rule. What significance is there in native communities pursuing their own legal strategies before the crown? How did tribute taxation and labor function? Were the New Laws successful?

Live: The Many Kinds of Economic Coercion

  • Ward Stavig, The World of Túpac Amaru, Ch. 6.


Woodrow Borah, “The Indians of Tejupan Want to Raise Silk on Their Own,” Colonial Lives, 6-10.


Love, Hate, and Social Reproduction (Oct 27)

This week, we are focusing on family, sexuality, and social order. The customs and laws of Iberia and the Indies were deeply influential in the ordering (and disordering) of colonial society. The Conquest, and its aftermath, included exploitative and coercive relationships, and even regular marriages had their fair share of conflict between spouses. This week, we consider these things by looking at unnatural sexuality and witchcraft, as a way of also understanding what colonial society understood to be natural.

Live: Sex in the Archive

  • Zeb Tortorici, “Impulses in the Archive: Misinscription and Voyeurism,” Chapter 2 in Sins Against Nature (Duke University Press, 2018).


  • Ruth Behar, “Sexual Witchcraft, Colonialism, and Women’s Powers,” in Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America. Lavrin, ed. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1992.


Disruption and Reform (Nov 3)

This week, we look at the early transformations of the colonial relationship after the Spanish War for succession. Consider the reforms posited by José Galvez, and reactions to them that fall short of open rebellion.


  • “José de Gálvez’s Decrees for the King’s Subjects in Mexico (1769, 1778)” in Mills, et. al., Colonial Latin America, pp. 270-273.

  • Pamela Voekel, “Peeing on the Palace: Bodily Resistance to Bourbon Reforms in Mexico City,” Journal of Historical Sociology, Vol. 5 No. 2 (June 1992): 183-208.


Rebellion and Reaction (Nov 10)

By the 1780s, part of the Spanish Empire erupted into open rebellion against the economic reforms pushed afer the Seven Years War. Why did these rebellions not lead to Independence? What explains the complicated political identities articulated by their protagonists? What constituted legitimate authority by century’s end?

  • Elizabeth Penry, “Letters of Insurrection: The Rebellion of the Communities (Charcas, 1781)” in Colonial Lives: 201-215.

  • David T. Garrett, “His Majesty’s Most Loyal Vassals”: The Indian Nobility and Túpac Amaru,” Hispanic American Historical Review, 84:4 (2004): 575-617. (Available through the library website.)


Independence (Nov 17)

The crises of the Bourbon reforms never produced independence movements. That would take Napoleon invading Spain. We consider this week the crisis of 1808 caused by Napoleon, and how that set up the process of independence, which wouldn’t culminate for more than a decade!

  • Jaime E. Rodríguez O., “New Spain and the 1808 Crisis of Spanish Monarchy,” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, 24.2 (Summer 2008): 245-287.


New World Orders (Nov 24)

Let’s Wrap.It.Up. The new republics will be free of Iberian rule, and you’re about to be free of this semester….

Final Due: December 3rd at 6:00pm.