World CivilizationsResearch

The Mind of the Conqueror

Introduction: The "white god" explanation of Cortés' success is far too simplistic. Cortés did not simply walk into Montezuma's capital and take over as some students assume. To understand the conquest of Mexico, you must understand the culture which the Spaniards encountered and the Spanish attitude toward the "heathen" population.

Instructions: This collection features two great documents which lend themselves to a compare/contrast project. Explore the reports written by Cortés ( from the viewpoint of the conquistadore) and Sahagún (from the viewpoint of the Aztec leaders). How do their records compare? What events do they record? Are there differences? Similarities? Can you determine what actually happened by comparing the two records? Why is Cortés ultimately successful in his conquest? (Be sure to consider the Aztec social structure, understanding of war and its purpose, European technological advantages, etc.) Make sure to use primary source data as well as good secondary sources to support your research. Other Spanish sources are included should you wish to do further research into the European attitude toward native peoples.

Note: On the Link Collection, we have included records of other colonists and explorers, from Columbus to Champlain. If you wish to vary this assignment, consider surveying the attitudes of several explorers and colonial leaders for motivation, attitude toward native populations, and rationalizations for enslaving or displacing them.

THOUGHT QUESTION: As you read these records, consider modern day justifications for entering underdeveloped countries with military or humanitarian aid. Are we trapped in a paradigm similiar to those of the conquistadores or are we progressing toward a global humanitarianism which looks to prevent suffering and promote peace?

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World Civilizations

RESEARCH: Ralph'sWorld Civilizations
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Last revised July 12, 1997
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