Spanish colonization of the Americas

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The Spanish colonization of the Americas began with the arrival in America of Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón) in 1492. This was the first part of the European colonization of the Americas.

The Spanish grew their control of land in America over the years until they owned Central America, most of South America, Mexico, the South of what today is Southern United States, the Western part of what today is the United States, the Southwestern part of what today is British Columbia in Canada, and even reaching Alaska.[1]

The earliest accounts of the conquest were written by Spanish conquistadors, such as Bernal Diaz del Castillo and Hernan Cortes. Their narratives said they were good men doing good things. They emphasized their bravery, and did not mention the brutality of the Spanish rule and the suffering of the natives. Cortes and Diaz’s reports present themselves as exceptional conquistadors with the goals of non-forcefully acquiring riches, seizing land, and converting the indigenous peoples to Christianity.

In the 19th century, indigenous perspectives began to gain recognition. The works of native writers were finally acknowledged, emphasizing the resistance of native peoples and supporting the notion that the Conquest utterly destroyed their lives.

In the mid-20th century, the celebratory narrative of the Spanish Conquest began to become rewritten. The negative impact the Conquest had on indigenous populations was finally gaining recognition. The world began to recognize conquistadors' inaccurate self-portrayals and egotistical intentions. Diaz and Cortes were no longer wrongly viewed as brave, but as reckless, viewing the New World and its inhabitants as merely territory they could forcefully possess control over. Their missions in the New World were solely a combination of Christian conversion, pursuit, and conquest, marked by a selfish desire for glory and wealth.  

In the 21st century, native groups Matthew Restall’s book “Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, written in 2007, additionally challenges the previously conventional narratives portraying Spanish conquistadors as extraordinarily courageous. He emphasizes the fact that their accounts were noted solely in terms of individual strategic goals and personal perspective. He poses seven myths in in his piece of work – The Myth of Exceptional Men, King’s Army, White Conquistador, Completion, (Mis)Communication, Native Desolation, and Superiority.

Restall’s myths consist of the following details: Contrary to previously popular belief, the Spanish conquistadors who participated in the conquest of the Americas were not uniquely exceptional, but average, and merely lucky. The Spanish conquistadors were not solely representatives of the Spanish crown. They had diverse motivations, often acting on individual initiative going against the interests of the crown. They were not exclusively of European descent, many containing mixed heritage. The Spanish conquistadors and Indigenous peoples of the Americas could communicate through various means, whether that be through the usage of interpreters, gestures, or simply learning each other’s languages. Spanish colonization of the Americas was an incomplete process, as the continent was not fully under Spanish control upon initial contact with the native peoples. The Americas were not underdeveloped before the arrival of the Spanish. The indigenous peoples did not live in a state of primitiveness, but instead, had incredibly advanced agricultural, social, and architectural systems. The Spanish conquistadors were not superior to the Indigenous peoples, as the Americas contained advanced societies with complex cultures and technological advancements.

The story of the Spanish conquest of the Americas has evolved significantly throughout the years, creating a newfound accuracy of the historical event.

References[change | change source]

  1. Sources on Spaniards in Alaska, British Columbia and Oregon: Study In fact, New Spain formally ruled the southwestern part of what today is the British Columbia (Source Archived 2018-12-15 at the Wayback Machine)