The Broken Spears (Beacon, 2006)
Available online: https://www-fulcrum-org.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/concern/monographs/m039k5072
The Spanish invasion of Mexico in the early sixteenth century provides us with an early case study of European power and its consequences for non-European peoples. For this written assignment, place yourself in the position of a historian attempting to explain the conquest of the Mexica (Aztecs) by Hernán Cortés and his far-outnumbered band of conquistadors. For evidence to support your position, you will use the primary documents compiled in The Broken Spears. Avoid using material in the editor’s introduction and postscript, since this is an exercise in primary source analysis.
Previous historians have proposed a variety of explanations for the conquest, including the following: The perception of Cortés as a God by some Mexica
Mexica fear and disorientation in face of the unknown
The consequences of cultural differences in religion, science, moral conduct, and/or social hierarchy
Existing, pre-conquest rivalries among various native groups (interethnic disunity)
Internal dissent and/or rebellious masses among the Mexica (intra-ethnic disunity)
The willingness of some native groups to forge alliances with Spaniards
The relative strengths and weaknesses of the opposing leaders
The advantage created by Spanish technology, weapons, and/or military tactics
An overpowering lust for gold among the Spaniards
Support for each of these explanations can be found in the book’s documents. Your task is to choose the factor that you think was most important and to defend your choice with carefully selected evidence. Do not hesitate to propose your own theory, as long as you can back it up with textual proof.
The essay you submit should include an introductory paragraph with a thesis statement; at least two or three paragraphs supporting your argument with extensive specific details from the text; and a conclusion that extends and deepens your introductory statement. Confirm that you have a thesis statement by asking the following question: What do I argue in this paper? The answer should be in your introductory paragraph. This is not a book report, summary, or review; it is an analytical essay. That means you must craft an argument supported by evidence from the reading. The strongest papers often raise and respond to a likely counter-argument. Avoid simply summarizing the story of the conquest.
You will want to quote directly—but only briefly—from the text to support your interpretation. Do not fill your paper with long quotations. All quotations must include page numbers as in the following example: The Mexica emphasized unsettling omens preceding the arrival of the Spaniards, as when Motecuhzoma [or Moctezuma or Montezuma] “was filled with dread and wonder” upon seeing a strange, dark-feathered bird (10).
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