Discussion For History Lecture

Rules for discussion (Read them!)

1) Post an original comment responding to the discussion question, utilizing the readings in your response. There must be at least two citations from the readings to receive credit for discussion. This post must be at least 200 words.

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2) Respond to the post of one of your classmates. This post must be at least 100 words (with a serious response; do not say something like “good job!” and expect credit!).

3) Your first comment will be due on Wednesday, by 11pm.

4) Your response to your classmates will be due on Friday, by 11pm.

Discussion Questions (you may answer only one if you prefer, or both):

1) Based on your reading, the lecture, and (especially) the films for this week, what roles did indigenous people play in Spanish conquest?

2) In the film about the Aztec empire and the Spanish conquest:  Cortes had many native allies– do you think the film delves into this enough? What do you think it would it look like if they had? What kinds of questions would you ask? Think about the Restall reading in your response.

The Spanish conquest, in modern day discussions outside of college classes (like this one!) tend to be one sided, and some of those discussions can be downright wrong.  In a sense, this is understandable– people want simple answers to simple questions. When listening to a story about conquest, or even war, people want to know those simple things: who won? Who lost? How many people died on each side?

But in thinking about the conquest of different regions of Latin America by the Spanish and Portuguese, there aren’t really any simple answers.

1) People want to believe that the Spanish “brought civilization” to the indigenous (i.e., Indians) people from Peru to Mexico. But what we know is that the civilizations in Peru (Incas) and Mexico (Aztecs) were in many ways more advanced than the Spanish.

2) People want to believe that the Spanish defeated the Aztecs (against ridiculous odds!). This is only half true. The battles between the Aztecs and Spanish also included tens of thousands of indigenous people who were fighting on the side of the Spanish! See, what people do not talk about as much is that the Aztecs were at the height of their power when the Spanish arrived– and you don’t get to that level without making enemies. Thus, when we talk about Hernan Cortes (Spanish Conquistador in Mexico) beating the Aztecs, it is important to keep in mind that he did it with the help of tens of thousands of indigenous allies.

It wasn’t culture, technology, or religion that made the Spanish victorious. It was his indigenous allies, something that people (including artists, as you can see above), don’t often remember, or simply don’t care to admit. It makes a better story if the Spaniards were outnumbered and defeated the Aztecs, but that is not true at all.

In the following documentary, the narrative tends to revolve around the development of Aztec society, both politically and structurally. However, they also talk about the arrival of the Spanish and conflict between the Spanish and the Aztecs. It runs about 45 minutes. Check it out, and listen to see how much attention they pay to the fact that Cortes had tens of thousands of indigenous allies. Do they talk about it? Do you think they talk about it enough? How do you think the story would change if they did?

Here is the movie about the Aztecs and the Spanish. Watch it!


Pizarro’s conquest of the Incas in the Andes (Peru, mostly) was a bit different. Well, it was very different.

First of all, the political structure of the Incas was very different.

Real quick, let’s go over the Aztecs, and how their empire functioned. As you’ve read, and as you have seen in the movie about the Aztecs, their conquest of other indigenous groups was simple: the Aztecs conquer a particular group, make them part of the empire, but to keep the new “members” of the empire from rising up, the Aztecs allowed them to keep their own culture and customs.

The Inca went about it differently. The Inca would conquer different indigenous groups on both sides of the Andes, but instead of letting them keep their culture and customs, they would instead send people they had already conquered who were more loyal. By mixing these populations, the idea was that they would make the transition into Incan life more smooth.

Neither of these political moves (the Incans or the Aztecs) was without flaws. Another thing they had in common– though in different ways– was that both concentrated power in their empires at the top. In other words, the circle of people who had power, in each empire, was very small. This simplified conquest in many ways, both in “Peru” and in “Mexico.”

Here is the movie about Pizarro and the Inca. Watch it!

In fact, think about it from the Spanish perspective: new place, new people, customs that you do not understand…how do you control people that have an entirely different way of thinking about what society is, or how it works? What both Cortes and Pizarro did after taking power, at least for a short time, was to maintain many of the political structures that already existed, and because both societies were heavily “top-down”, assuming power became easy. But maintaining power was much more difficult, because both underestimated the connection that these people had to their cultures, their customs, and their societies.

Technically, the Aztecs and the Inka were defeated. The presence and growth of Spanish colonial power proves as much. However, the destruction of the Aztec and Incan empires were just on political and military levels. The real issue was how to control the indigenous folks themselves– and that was a process that took hundreds of years, and ultimately…failed? The real answer to that last question depends on who you ask, and what you think about the material throughout the rest of this class. 

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