The fifteenth-century Renaissance and the beginnings of European exploration, conquest, and colonization are part of the same narrativeone in which culture, science, religion, politics, and power are inextricably intertwined. Innovations in science and technology made long-distance travel and exploration possible. The desire of rulers for wealth and power financed conquest, and the desire of the Roman Catholic church for converts provided religious motivation for the subjection of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Upon reaching Central Mexico, Spanish explorers found themselves confronted with the Nahua people, commonly known as Aztecs, of whom the largest tribe was the Mexica. Stuart B. Schwartz's Victors and Vanquished: Spanish and Nahua Views of the Conquest of Mexico contains opposing versions of the defeat and destruction of the flourishing sixteenth-century civilization of the Nahua.
By presenting both indigenous and European sources in each chapter, Schwartz attempts to present both sides of the story, although he warns that cross-cultural influence sometimes makes it difficult to group the documents with one culture. The account of Bernal Díaz in Schwartz's second set of documents will be of particular interest to students. Díaz stresses the importance of communication and the good fortune of the Spanish in having translators. He also discusses both the culture of the Nahua and Spanish military equipment and tactics. What were the technological advantages and disadvantages of the Spanish and the indigenous peoples? Did knowledge of science and geography favor the Europeans?
Chapters 14 and 15 of The Making of the West provide a general historical context for Schwartz's Victors and Vanquished, which explores European history within a world-history context integrating Latin American and early-modern historiography. Schwartz fills in that general background with a collection of documents that illustrate the clash of two cultures and how this...
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