Discussion: Hernan Cortes' Letter

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1. Why is Cortes' letter a primary source?
2. Is there any information in his letter that he did not actually observe? How do you reconcile this fact with the idea that this is a primary source? Can a document be partially primary and partially secondary? (i.e., written by someone who did not witness the events or experience the emotion?)
3. What can you infer about Cortes’ motives in writing about “the wonders of Tenochtitlan” and the Aztecs? Why did he choose to write about the topics he addressed in this letter? Who is is intended audience, and how might that have influenced the letter?
4. Using Cortes' comments in the first two paragraphs, what assumptions can you make about the wealth of the Aztec state?
5. List three characteristics of the Aztec religion. What religious practice did Cortes attempt to do away with? Do you think that he could have been successful?

Cortes’ letter is a primary source because he witnessed the events he wrote about first hand. From what I gathered through his writing Cortes did not appear to leave any vital information out as he reported every aspect of the noble city. The way he was able to give his reader, or readers, vivid descriptions of Temixtitlan from the outside in, gives us reassurance that his letter is indeed a primary source. Unfortunately a document cannot be comprised partially primary and partially secondary. Primary accounts are characterized as the direct proof of a period, with material being delivered by eyewitnesses and in this case, Cortes’ time in Temixtitlan. Cortes chose to comprehend the significance of knowing the geology of the domain he wanted to conquer. Clearly, for early explorers knowing the terrain and being able to locate natural resources is the difference between life and death. He also chose certain topics because he is attempting to make his description audience-relatable, and more importantly, he is trying describe the degree of sophistication of this great city. According to the beginning

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