Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest

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"Here is an exploration of the ways in which the history of the Spanish Conquest has been misread and passed down to become popular knowledge of these events. The book offers a fresh account of the activities of the best-known conquistadors and explorers, including Columbus, Cortes, and Pizarro." "Using a wide array of sources, historian Matthew Restall highlights seven key myths, uncovering the source of the inaccuracies and exploding the fallacies and misconceptions behind each myth. This book shows, for instance, that native Americans did not take the conquistadors for gods and that small numbers of vastly outnumbered Spaniards did not bring down great empires with stunning rapidity. We discover that Columbus was correctly seen in his lifetime - and for decades after - as a briefly fortunate but unexceptional participant in efforts involving many southern Europeans. It was only much later that Columbus was portrayed as a great man who fought against the ignorance of his age to discover the new world. Restall also shows that the Spanish Conquest relied heavily on black and native allies, who provided many thousands of fighters, vastly outnumbering the conquistadors. In fact, the native perception of the Conquest differed sharply from the Spanish version - they saw it as a native civil war in which the Spaniards played an important but secondary role." The Conquest, Restall shows, was more complex - and more fascinating - than conventional histories have portrayed it. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest offers a richer and more nuanced account of a key event in the history of the Americas.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
According to historical consensus, the Spanish conquest of the New World was a cataclysm in which superior European technology and organization overwhelmed Native American civilizations. In this daring revisionist critique, Penn State historian Restall describes a far more complex process in which Indians were central participants on both sides of the struggle. Far from regarding the Spaniards as gods, Restall argues, Indians offered a variety of shrewd, pragmatic responses to the invaders while advancing their own political agendas. Indeed, given that the conquistadors were vastly outnumbered by their Indian allies, the Conquest was in many respects a civil war between natives. Nor did Indian societies fall apart at one blow: independent Mayan polities, for example, persisted into the 19th century. Even under Spanish rule, Indians continued to live in self-governing communities, where they maintained their own languages, cultures and leaders who had considerable clout with the colonial administration. Drawing on Spanish, Native American and West African accounts of the Conquest, academic studies and even Hollywood movies, Restall examines the paradigm of European triumph and Indian "desolation" as it evolved from the conquistador's self-serving narratives to contemporary interpretations by such writers as Jared Diamond and Kirkpatrick Sale. Rejecting the implicit juxtaposition of "subhuman" Indians with "superhuman" Europeans, Restall asserts instead that, through war and epidemic, native societies retained much of their autonomy and cohesion, and "turn[ed] calamity into opportunity." Restall's provocative analysis, wide-ranging scholarship and lucid prose make this a stimulating contribution to the debate on one of history's great watersheds. Photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Was Christopher Columbus considered a great explorer in his day? Were all of the Conquistadors white? The answers to these questions and more are found in this loosely connected collection of essays designed to correct misconceptions that pervade most accounts of the Spanish conquest of the New World. Restall (director, Latin American studies, Pennsylvania State Univ.; The Maya World: Yucatec Culture and Society, 1550-1850) relies on both Spanish sources and often ignored native accounts (primarily Maya) to argue that the Spanish efforts in the Americas would have never succeeded without the immense contributions of their rarely acknowledged allies, namely, Native Americans and Africans. His compelling and revisionist presentation ultimately demonstrates that from the beginning of the Spanish Conquest, the way of life that evolved in the Americas was shaped in concert by diverse peoples of European, Native American, and African descent. This multidisciplinary work is recommended for all academic libraries and larger public libraries.-John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Provocative if dry essay in New World historiography, gainsaying a large body of received wisdom. Over the last half-century, many writers on the Spanish conquest of the Americas have confronted such thorny problems as the Black Legend and the demography of the pre-Columbian hemisphere, dispelling once-prevailing notions about, for example, why Coronado found so few Indians on his trip across the Great Plains and why Montezuma's Mexico fell so quickly to Cortez and company. But many of those notions remain, writes Restall (History/Penn. State Univ.), even in such contemporary texts as the supposedly iconoclastic works of Tzvetan Todorov and Kirkpatrick Sale. Using the word loosely enough to give folklorists fits, Restall brands as "myth" the idea, for instance, that a mere handful of conquistadors took down Mexico and Peru, and the concomitant canard that the Indians thought that the Spanish were strange gods from across the sea. The Spanish were indeed few, he acknowledges, but backed by great numbers of Indian allies and, more to the point, by non-Spanish conquistadors, particularly black Africans like Juan Garc'a, who hauled a comfortable amount of gold to Spain from Peru and lived well thereafter. "There was no apotheosis," he adds, "no 'belief that the Spaniards are gods,' and no resulting native paralysis." Some of these myths, Restall holds, came from the pens of Columbus and certain of his contemporaries, who had an understandable interest in promoting themselves as lone heroes; others came from the likes of Washington Irving, whose romantic views of Columbus the visionary entered the historical record in the 19th century and have been hard to root out ever since. Restall'salternative history of the Conquest emphasizes the multiethnic nature of the newcomers and the practicality of those who ceded land and wealth to them. For specialists, mainly, though useful to those interested in how empires-and myths-are made.
From the Publisher

"Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest is an engaging and highly readable account of the history of the conquest of the Amerias."--Jennifer Jobb, Against the Current

"A daring revisionist critique.... Restall's provocative analysis, wide-ranging scholarship and lucid prose make this a stimulating contribution to the debate on one of history's great watersheds."--Publishers Weekly

"This is an important book. It should be read by all high school world history teachers, and by professors of the same....a powerful indictment of the myths that we all inadvertently rely on to explain a complex and distant period. It will undoubtedly stir up a discussion about the reality of these myths and what others might find in both popular and scholarly writing in this field, and others." --American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195160772
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/28/2003
  • Pages: 240
  • Lexile: 1610L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 9.40 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Restall is Professor of Latin American History, Women's Studies, and Anthropology, and Director of Latin American Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of five books, including Maya Conquistador and The Maya World. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Lost Words of Bernal Diaz
1 A Handful of Adventurers: The Myth of Exceptional Men 1
2 Neither Paid Nor Forced: The Myth of the King's Army 27
3 Invisible Warriors: The Myth of the White Conquistador 44
4 Under the Lordship of the King: The Myth of Completion 64
5 The Lost Words of La Malinche: The Myth of (Mis)Communication 77
6 The Indians Are Coming to an End: The Myth of Native Desolation 100
7 Apes and Men: The Myth of Superiority 131
Epilogue: Cuauhtemoc's Betrayal 147
Permissions 159
Notes 161
References 193
Index 209
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 12, 2011

    Very useful look at the history of the conquest

    This book is a great second step into clearing up many of the myths that have developed around the conquest. We all have been taught many unfounded things that have gathered legitimacy through time and repetition. By reading this book one can begin the very satisfactory journey of clearing out the layers of myth obscuring historical fact.

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    Posted November 26, 2010

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    Posted December 14, 2010

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