COLT 413/513: Conquest and Cultural Representation in the New World

Fall 1999 Prof. Gordon Sayre

204 Villard Hall 521 PLC ph. 6-1313

noon-one MWF Office Hours: Mon. 3-5, Thurs. 3-4:30

CRN 15755/15756 email:

The Spanish conquest of Mexico is one of the key events of our history. As the first major victory for Europeans on the American mainland following Columbus, it set in motion the world we live in. Many have wondered: how could a force of a few hundred topple a sophisticated society of hundreds of thousands in its own homeland? We will seek answers to this question in the second half of the term. But our goals here go beyond an explanation of or apology for the military conquest. The invaders destroyed civilizations of a complexity rarely acknowledged by modern Americans. Yet many early colonists carefully examined and recorded the life of these Natives. We will seek the causes of such a paradox of preservation amid destruction , and listen to dramatic dialogues between the Old World and the New.

The class is organized in three parts: Brazil, New France, and Mexico, and focuses on three important colonial writers, Jean de Léry, the Baron de Lahontan, and Bernal Diaz del Castillo. The course thus spans much of the Americas, but in just ten weeks we cannot examine the colonial history of any of these regions in depth. Instead, I hope to compare the styles and strategies of representation used by various authors, whether military men, missionaries, or opportunistic "adventurers" in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Books (available at the University Bookstore)

Jean de Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, trans. Janet Whatley

Bernal Diaz del Castillo, The Conquest of New Spain, trans. J. M. Cohen

Tzvetan Todorov, The Conquest of America, trans. Richard Howard

Miguel Leon-Portilla, The Broken Spears, revised edition

The Course packet, available at the Copy Shop, on 13th avenue near Patterson, is required, and contains key works by Hans Staden, the Baron de Lahontan, and Diego Duran.


There will be three short papers, a research project, and a term paper.

• The short papers (3-4 pages) will be due one for each unit: Brazil, New France, and Mexico. I will distribute questions and options as the term progresses.

• For the research project, I want you to explore additional sources to learn about some aspect of native American culture, or colonial history and literature, which we are not reading for the course. The assignment could take any of several forms: an annotated bibliography of a number of articles or book chapters; a portfolio of visual sources with commentary; or an interpretation of a single literary work. Please meet with me during the first half of term to discuss your plans or to brainstorm for ideas. The assignment will be due November 15th.

• The term paper should examine one of the major texts we have read for the term: Lahontan, Staden, Léry, Duran, Diaz del Castillo, or Todorov. I encourage you to use secondary sources. It will be due December 10th.


Course Schedule

9/27 Introduction

9/29 A Captive to Cannibals

Hans Staden, pp58-125 [in copypacket]

9/31 A Calvinist among Cannibals

Jean de Léry, Preface, chapters 1-5 [pp. xlv-lvii; 1-32]; Frank Lestringant, Cannibals, chapter 6 [on reserve]

10/4 The Natural History of Brazil

Jean de Léry, chapters 7-11; Hans Staden, Part II chapters 4-16, 29-35

10/6 War and Cannibalism

Jean de Léry chapters 14, 15

10/8 A European Humanist Considers Cannibalism

Montaigne, "Of Cannibals"; Staden, Part II chaps. 17-28


Jean de Léry chapters 16-19


Jean de Léry chapters 20-22

10/15 Introduction to Lahontan and New France

Lahontan, Voyages Letters I-VI [pp 1-65]

10/18 Lahontan "Playing Indian"

Lahontan, Voyages Letters VII-XIII; and passage from Memoires on hunting [pp66-134; 476-494]

10/20 A Voyage on the "Rivière Longue"

Lahontan, Voyages Letters XV-XVI [pp 152-215]


Lahontan, Memoires, pp394-475


Lahontan, Memoires, Dialogues, pp494-550


Lahontan, Dialogues, pp. 551-618

10/29 Introduction to the Conquest of Mexico

Todorov; "Understanding, Taking Possession and Destroying" and "Equality and Inequality" pp127-167; Cortes, "First Letter" (in copy packet)


Bernal Diaz, pp. 57-99

11/3 Introduction to Mexica Society

Broken Spears pp. xi-xlvii and 175-182; handouts from Brotherston, Image of the New World

11/5 Todorov on Duran and Sahagun

Todorov, pp202-241

11/8 Omens of the Invasion

Broken Spears chapter 1; Bernal Diaz, pp. 220-233; Diego Duran, Book of Gods and Rites, chapter 1 (handout) and History of the Indies of New Spain, chapters 61, 63


Bernal Diaz, pp. 107-165

11/12 Montezuma Inquires about the Invaders

Broken Spears , chapters 2-4; Duran, History chapters 65-71 [pp. 470-514]

11/15 Why did the Spanish Succeed?

Todorov; pp53-97; Inga Clendinnen, "A Most Fierce and Unusual Cruelty" [reserve]


Bernal Diaz; pp 157-215

11/19 The Massacre at Cholula

Broken Spears chapters 5-7, and illustrations from Sahagun and Duran

11/22 Moctezuma's Captivity

Bernal Diaz pp234-277; Broken Spears chapter 8

11/24 The "Noche triste" and the Massacre at the Feast of Huitzilopochtli Bernal Diaz pp278-307; Broken Spears chapter 9,10

11/29 The Siege of Tenochtitlan

Bernal Diaz pp353-413

12/1 Interpreting Mexico's Defeat

Broken Spears chapters 11-13; Todorov pp98-123

12/3 The Aftermath

Broken Spears pp150-172