Using the ‘Exploring the Americas’ exhibit discuss both the ways in which the colonization of the Americas were depicted and the reasons for such depictions.
After slowly trotting through security and languidly ascending a massive marble staircase in the Library of Congress, one can find themselves at the entrance of the Exploring the Early Americas exhibit. At the top of the stairs a banner titling the exhibit, and most likely a mass of tourists pandering in and out of the entrance, signals your arrival. Two impressive Mesoamerican incense burners guard the path inside. It feels darkly symbolic knowing these objects once protected a Mayan tomb and now sit behind glass, peering out, trapped in a case within a country they don’t belong, guarding a different kind of burial place. The exhibit displays the remains of flourishing civilizations, of cultured and vibrant societies, now wiped from the earth, practically annihilated from our memories and given a minor exhibit within a government establishment built by their European conquerors. The exhibit distinctly expresses an admiration for the Early Americas and completes its task of respecting and presenting the Mesoamerican people in a conclusive and constructive approach, but while the exhibit certainly highlights the positives of pre-contact American society there’s a slightly eerie lack of European guilt or touch upon the genocide and atrocities Europeans inflicted upon such a dynamic civilization. Through the Library of Congress exhibit, Mesoamerica is broken down into three themes: Pre-Contact America; Explorations and Encounters; and Aftermath of the Encounter. Three thousand rare maps, documents, paintings, prints, and artifacts of the time are apparently exhibited and dutifully provide insight into the past cultures, but there is a severe lack of drama, of sources that provoke ethical questioning, of evidence of the mass deaths and the apocalyptic era that the Mayas, Incas and Aztecs endured. While the exhibit works vigorously in depicting Mesoamerican civilization and the European culture that pervaded subsequently, the ugly transition between occupation and conquest seems reduced and practically lost. This theme of appreciative evidence counteracted by an overarching lack of bleak fact defines the exhibit as a whole. The American viewers are given a less tense, guilt free trip to their Library of Congress as they progress through the three major themes of the exhibit and witness, not only a biased account of colonization generated by sixteenth century Europeans to justify conquest, but also a slightly skewed representation of these primary sources by the exhibits curator. The preliminary section of the exhibit handles Pre-Contact America and does so in an informative and innocuous fashion, letting the artifacts do most of the talking. Comparison between the New World and fifteenth and sixteenth century urban centers in continents such as Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa dominate this portion of the exhibit and make the observer feel the advancement and similarities between the Old World and the New. Through maps, Tenochtitlan is compared to another water based island city, the sophisticated and intensely European Venice. Conquistadors and Spanish explorers reveled in the impressive city, with buildings constructed on islands interconnected by canals and handling water trade with ease. A new world Venice was present; a sophisticated city was beheld before the Spanish on a continent believed to be inefficient and unintelligent. Other 15th century maps of great cities such as Istanbul, Nanjing and Rome line the exhibit in comparison to Tenochtitlan and the Inca capital of Cuzco. Rituals, ceremonies and celebrations are chronicled through relief panels and vessels depicting ancient ballgames, cosmic origin stories and religious symbolism. A highly advanced and culturally significant society is depicted in beautiful full form. Vases, vessels,...
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conquest of the VVeast India, now called new Spayne, atchieued by the vvorthy prince Hernando Cortes, marques of the valley of Huaxacac, most delectable to reade. Imprinted at London: by Henry Bynneman, 1578.
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