Conquest of the Americas
Dr. Marshall C. Eakin is Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, where he has taught since 1983. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Costa Rica and at the University of Kansas, where he also earned his master's degree. He earned his Ph.D. from UCLA. Before taking his position at Vanderbilt, he taught at Loyola Marymount University. He has won many teaching awards at Vanderbilt, including the Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Madison Sarratt Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and a chair of teaching excellence awarded by the University's Board of Trust. In 1999, he was named the Carnegie Foundation/CASE Tennessee Professor of the Year. Dr. Eakin has published many articles in scholarly journals and popular publications, and is the author of four books, including Brazil: The Once and Future Country and Tropical Capitalism: The Industrialization of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. In 2003, the government of Brazil inducted Dr. Eakin into the prestigious Order of Rio Branco for his contributions to Brazil's relationship with the United States.
01: Three Peoples Collide
Neither the Eurocentric term "discovery" nor the blandly neutral "encounters" does justice to the impact of Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans coming together in the New World. This process of conquest and mutual discovery can best be described as a "collision" whose causes and effects are outlined in this introductory lecture.
02: The Native Americans
Most of the inhabitants of the Americas arrived in a series of migratory waves from Asia between 40,000 and 2,000 BCE Their civilizations, based on sophisticated irrigation and farming, and complex religions and social structures, would eventually rival those of Europe in almost all realms of life.
03: Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas
The Aztecs and Incas created empires built upon religions of conquest, and powered by the control of water, around Lake Texcoco in Mexico and high in the Andes Mountains, respectively. In the lowlands of Guatemala, the Maya developed a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, and built the archaeological monuments that astound us even today.
04: Europeans and Africans
Europe and Africa had been connected for centuries by Old World trading networks centered around the Mediterranean. It was in the 15th century that Spain and Portugal, nation-states with expertise in shipping and navigation, shifted the trade out of the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic, along the west coast of Africa. This set the stage for expeditions to the New World.
05: European Overseas Expansion
In 1492, Europe was dwarfed in power by the civilizations of China, India, the Ottomans of the Middle East, and even the empires of Africa. This lecture explains how four factors—the modern nation-state, capitalism, Christianity, and new technologies—combined to catapult Portugal, with its window onto the Atlantic, to a position of global primacy.
06: Christopher Columbus—Path to Conquest
Neither villain nor visionary, Christopher Columbus was an extremely learned and deeply devout man, who embarked on his "enterprise of the Indies" for "gold, glory, and gospel." He died unaware that he had initiated arguably the most important event in world history of the last 1,000 years.
07: Stepping Stones—The Conquest of the Caribbean
Within a generation the Spanish swept across the Caribbean Sea and the surrounding regions, conquering and annihilating native peoples, and establishing the patterns of conquest that they would repeat across the Americas for nearly a century.
08: The Rise of Hernán Cortés
In the conquest of Mexico, two empires collide, and two mighty figures clash. Emerging from obscurity in Cuba, Hernán Cortés would lead a renegade Spanish expedition to the coast of Mexico. He brilliantly exploited divisions among the various Indian tribes, bringing enemies of the Aztec empire to his side, and eventually capturing Montezuma in his own palace.
09: The Fall of Montezuma
After a massacre of the Aztecs by one of Cortés's officers, hundreds of thousands of enraged warriors surrounded the Spaniards, and the battle to flee from Tenochtitlán was about to begin. During the bloody struggle around Lake Texcoco, Montezuma would die, and the Spanish forces would narrowly escape. Cortés prepared to lay siege to the capital, and the ravages of disease began to weaken the Aztecs, sealing their empire's fate.
10: Conquistadors and Incas
Unlike the sweeping epic tale in Mexico, the conquest of the Incas in Peru was a sordid tale of betrayal and civil war. Francisco Pizarro captured and executed the Inca ruler Atahualpa, and pitted an enemy Inca faction against Atahualpa's remaining forces. Jealousy over the spoils of conquest, however, would eventually claim more Spanish lives than the war against the Incas itself.
11: The Frontiers of Empire
Conquests outside of the core regions of Mexico, Peru, and the Caribbean were far less fruitful. Ironically, the less developed people of the frontier proved far more difficult to conquer than the large empires. Pedro Alvarado was successful in his campaigns against the Maya in Guatemala, but expeditions into what is now the North American mainland yielded neither riches nor glory.
12: Portuguese Brazil—The King's Plantation
The Portuguese had stumbled upon Brazil in 1500 while sailing off the coast of West Africa, and it was initially an insignificant part of their vast trading empire. With the growth of sugar as a cash crop, however, Brazilian sugar plantations expanded on a vast scale. The depletion of Indian labor and the protection of Indian populations by Jesuit priests caused Brazil to turn to the widespread use of African slave labor.
13: The Atlantic Slave Trade
The Atlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in world history. The Middle Passage, a harrowing experience almost beyond comprehension, claimed the lives of almost 20 percent of its human cargo en route. Slave narratives of the time describe the slave experience in graphic, first-hand detail, and newly assembled documentation assists in understanding the true scope of this shameful chapter in human events.
14: Haciendas and Plantations
The Spanish, Portuguese, and other European powers employed various labor systems to make their colonial possessions productive. This lecture explores the functioning of the encomienda, or land-grant system, the repartimiento system, which allocated draft-enforced Indian labor to landowners, as well as the plantation system as it functioned, quite distinctively, in the Caribbean and Brazil.
15: American Silver and Spanish Galleons
Spanish colonial wealth was built on the great estates, the rich silver mines in northern Mexico and upper Peru, and the fleet system that carried American silver back to Spain. When silver production in 1610 dramatically declined, the mercantilist Spanish economy upon which it was built fell like a house of cards.
16: The Sword and the Cross
With a religious zeal forged both by the long battle against the Moors of North Africa and by the intimate link between Church and State, Catholic missionaries from Spain and Portugal flooded into the Americas. Many produced some of the most extensive anthropological work on native cultures ever conducted.
17: New Peoples, New Religions
Despite the combination of persuasion and force employed by the missionaries, religious conquest was largely a failed project. Today, the vast majority of people in the Americas practice forms of Christianity, but in syncretic forms that are deeply imbued with indigenous and African religious beliefs.
18: Late Arrivals—The English in North America
In search of the Northwest Passage, and intending to disrupt the Spanish-Portuguese monopoly in the Caribbean, the English began expeditions of exploration and settlement. In Virginia, they would turn to a plantation system similar to that of the Portuguese in Brazil. The Pilgrims settling in Massachusetts Bay would pursue an entirely different, "northern" kind of society.
19: Conquest by Dispossession
The condemnation issued by Bartolomé de las Casas of Spanish treatment of the Indians was taken up by English and Dutch Protestants with vigor and gave rise to the notorious Black Legend. All European powers, however, were equally guilty of cruelty and ruthlessness towards native peoples, and each developed ideologies to justify the taking of lands from them. These ideological underpinnings are crucial to understanding the nature of the various mixed societies that ultimately emerged in the Americas.
20: Late Arrivals—The French in the Americas
The French attempted to establish footholds throughout the Americas, but their greatest success came along the St. Lawrence River, in New France, which would eventually become Quebec. The French Calvinist Jean de Léry also left perhaps that most empathic ethnographies of Indian life, based on his months living with the Tupinamba Indians, which includes an apology for cannibalism!
21: Pirates of the Caribbean
In the early 17th century, Dutch privateers struck at the heart of Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the Caribbean basin to undercut their trade monopolies. The Caribbean became a battleground, and by the end of the 17th century, the English and French had followed suit and established a permanent colonial presence.
22: Clash of Cultures—Victors and Vanquished
The European military conquest of the Americas was largely successful. The parallel effort to impose European cultures and values on Native Americans, Africans, and their descendants has not been. Active resistance to assimilation and the inevitable effects of racial and cultural mixing have led to new, widely divergent hierarchies and continuums of race, class, language, and social mobility.
23: The Rise of “American” Identities
Latin American cities in the 17th century were urbane, sprawling centers of wealth and culture that arguably outshone their European counterparts. The way of life was very different in the countryside, out of the reach of the church and other cultural institutions, as it was in the less developed British North America and along the Brazilian coast, where more uniquely "American" societies evolved.
24: The Americas—Collisions and Convergence
The mainstream of life in the Americas has been fed by three sources—one African, one European, and one Native-American—which are now inextricably fused. If economic development and social and political equity continue to spread throughout the Americas, the process of three peoples becoming one may yet reach fruition.