Introduction to Early Latin America
History 255/LAS 251
TR 9:50-11:05

Fall 2020

Prof. Chad Black
Office: 2627 Dunford Hall, 6th Floor
Drop-in Hours: Online only, Thursdays 9:50-11:50 and by appointment.

TA Info:
Kaitlin Simpson,
Jane Chang,

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 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. The history of Early Latin America, however, does not begin in October 1492. Indigenous bands and great civilizations inhabited North and South America for more than ten thousand years prior to the arrival of Europeans on the shores of Caribbean islands. Thus, in this class we will concentrate on the pre-Colombian period, the conquest period, and the ensuing three hundred years of Spanish (and to a limited extent) Portuguese rule. The lectures will move both chronologically and topically. We will concentrate on two key geographic areas of examination— central Mexico, home to the highly structured pre-Columbian societies of the Maya and the Mexica, among many others, and later the center of Spanish control in its northern kingdoms as the Viceroyalty of New Spain; and, the central Andes, land of the Inca Empire and its subject polities (among others), and home of the Viceroyalty of Peru, the center of Spanish power in its southern kingdoms. Our class will cover a tremendous breadth of time and territory, and as such the lectures, readings, and discussion sections are designed to draw your critical attention to issues, including ethnicity, gender, slavery, culture, and power, as well as the institutions and structures that patterned native, African, and European experiences of Spanish and Portuguese imperialism.

course objectives

  1. To introduce students to the forces, events, and conflicts that defined the process of conquest and colonization of the Americas, including:
    • The histories and cultures of pre-conquest state systems, particularly in central Mexico and the Andes.
    • The historical precedents for Spanish and Portuguese expansion and conquest.
    • The process of conquest and colonization from the perspectives of Iberian, African, and indigenous populations.
    • The fundamental forms of institutional and cultural organization that structured daily life during the three centuries of Spanish rule.
    • The tensions of late colonial society that let to conflict, disorder, and eventually rebellion.
  2. To understand and use a variety of sources that provide the core of historical inquiry.

  3. To be able to identify, understand, and critique historical argument.
    • Historians follow a lose set of epistemological, theoretical, and evidentiary rules in their attempts to recreate the limited past that is accessible to us through our incomplete archival record. At the college level and beyond, it is your task to learn how to identify an author’s central argument and to evaluate it based on its evidence, sources, logic, and narrative.

required readings

All required readings are available on Canvas.


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.

Attendance: Attendance at our Tuesday sessions is mandatory. Thursday sessions are asynchronous and can be completed at your leisure during the week. Please note that you are responsible for the information from both Tuesday and “Thursday” for completing your weekly report.

Deadlines: Assignments must uploaded to Canvas by the end of the day on which they are due. Late papers will not be accepted with out prior arrangement. If you will not be able to complete an assignment on time, you must contact me and your TA ahead of time. If you contract COVID or some other illness, please let us know so that we can work with you.

Cell Phones, Laptops, Zoom: Normally, I would put my technology policy here, but good grief that’s sure out the window this semester! Suffice to say, during our Zoom sessions please behave responsibly. The temptation of digital distraction will be huge! Please submit questions during the lecture on the chat function. The TAs will be monitoring the chat and any of you can answer questions that you know. I’ll respond as well as needed! Please be respectful. Keep your microphones muted, except during breakout groups or if you’re called on during Tuesday’s lecture. If you have the bandwidth, please use your camera, especially during breakout groups. The TAs and I may drop in to your breakout session.

Research shows that analog note-taking improves learning. Consider having paper with you. Based on the prevailing literature, hand note-taking– both while reading and in class– leads to substantially better educational outcomes. Consider taking notes by hand even though you’ll be watching on your computer.

Drop-in Hours: Students are strongly encouraged to speak with me and the TAs outside of class. The advantages include: extra help on an assignment or preparation for exams; clarification of materials covered in lecture, discussion of comments on your work; discussion of this or related courses. Normally, I would have an open door on campus during drop-in hours. This semester, I’m not planning on sitting in a vacant Zoom session, so we will have to do these by appointment. I will always set aside our Thursday time for individual meetings, but can schedule at other times too.

Changes: I reserve the write to change this syllabus as the semester progresses. This is not a contract, but rather a document to guide expectations and clearly communicate weekly assignments. Please bring the syllabus with you to our class meetings. Or, keep up with it on the course website.