Mesoamerican Culture, History, and Religion

First Contact & Conquest Era History

Here you will find material about the events of the Conquest period in Mexico. I have managed to locate public domain English editions of several of the major Spanish histories from the years shortly after the fall of the Aztec Empire. When reading works that old, keep in mind the limitations inherent in texts written by people who are completely alien to the culture they’re describing, are operating across a formidable language barrier, and will necessarily be influenced by their biases and situation. History writing back then was much less formal and academically-rigorous (there are a lot of histories written purely from recycling material from earlier books by people who never set foot in the place they’re discussing, e.g. Torquemada’s Monarchia), and the anthropological ideal of neutrality hadn’t really flowered yet. For a short but useful discussion of some of the problems and areas of caution in early sources, I recommend following the link to the bibliography section of Dr. Nancy Fitch’s website below.

Index of Pre-Twentieth Century Works

Letters of Cortes: The Five Letters of Relation from Fernando Cortes to the Emperor Charles V.

1908 English edition of Cortes’s letters to the Spanish monarch. A valuable eyewitness account. Full text, public domain, PDF.

Narrative of Some Things of New Spain and of the Great City of Temestitan, México

1917 English translation of the Anonymous Conqueror’s brief history of the Conquest and life in Tenochtitlan.  Identity of the author is obviously unknown, but is allegedly one of Hernan Cortes’s soldiers.  This is Marshall H. Saville’s translation, edited by Alec Christensen.  Full text on FAMSI.

The Natural & Moral History of the Indies, Volume 1

The Natural & Moral History of the Indies, Volume 2

1880 reprint of Father Jose de Acosta’s 1604 English edition of his history of Mexico. Another important early work. Note this edition retains the original 17th Century English spellings. Full text of both volumes is up, public domain, PDFs.

The True History of the Conquest of New Spain

1908 English edition of Bernal Diaz Del Castillo the Conquistador’s historical account. Interesting due to its allegedly eyewitness nature, though the accuracy is severely questioned. Be very cautious with the accounts regarding Aztec religion, as Diaz was extremely hostile and had strong motivations to demonize it to justify the actions of the Conquistadores. Mostly useful to understand the Spanish perception and probable distortions. Full text (four volumes bound as one in this edition for the Hakluyt Society), public domain, PDF.

Index of Current Works

The Conquest of Mexico (Main)

Bibliography & Discussion of Problems With the Primary Sources

Website by Dr. Nancy Fitch, professor of history at California State University, Fullerton. This useful site is her materials for one of her college history courses, and has maps of Tenochtitlan, a Conquest-period timeline of events, and a collection of her own translations of excerpts from early documents. Also contains an extensive bibliography with discussion of some of the major problems with the early source texts that are left to us today. Click HERE to read this discussion and see her bibliography.

One response

  1. Oh, dear, I’m afraid I posted my message in the wrong place. I was on the page for post-Conquest history, but my message is about a book I’m writing dealing with the years of 1517-1529. It’s about the slave girl Marina (aka Malinalli, aka La Malinche) and Hernan Cortes. It tells Marina’s story sympathetically, and is sympathetic to the Aztecs and Mayas of the 16th century (researched for 5 years).
    Please see my other post and let me know if you would like a review copy of the book, which will be coming out this year under the title of “Malinalli of the Fifth Sun: The Slave Girl Who Changed the World.”
    Helen Heightsman Gordon
    Author, Educator, Editor

    August 31, 2011 at 4:13 AM

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