Sources and Resources for The Meaning of Columbus Day

General reading

Books for general audiences dealing with disease epidemics and population in the Americas in 1492 are Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond (1997, W.W. Norton & Co.); 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann (2005, Alfred A. Knopf); and Stolen Continents: The "New World" Through Indian Eyes by Ronald Wright (1992, Houghton Mifflin Co.). 

Plagues and Peoples by William H. McNeill (1976, Anchor Press/Doubleday) deals with the role of disease epidemics in affecting the course of world history; and Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 by Alfred W. Crosby (Cambridge University Press, 1986) shows the biological basis for the spread of European colonialism, with a focus on the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand. An earlier book by Crosby, The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (originally published in 1972, second edition 2003, Praeger), is a classic and contains a revised version of his 1967 seminal article "Conquistador y Pestilencia: The First New World Pandemic and the Fall of the Great Indian Empires," which originally appeared in The Hispanic American Historical Review

Born to Die: Disease and New World Conquest, 1492-1650 by Noble David Cook (1998, Cambridge University Press) is a comprehensive run-down of the various diseases that flourished in the Americas after European contact; and "Secret Judgments of God": Old World Disease in Colonial Spanish America, ed. by Noble David Cook and W. George Lovell (1992, University of Oklahoma Press) contains a useful selection of articles dealing with epidemics and their effects in colonial Latin America. 

The Native Population of the Americas in 1492, edited by William M. Denevan (second edition 1992, University of Wisconsin Press), and Denevan's article "The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492" (1992, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 82:369-85) contain population estimates of the native peoples at the time of European contact. Numbers from Nowhere: The American Indian Contact Population Debate by David Henige (1998, University of Oklahoma Press) provides a detailed, and highly critical, assessment of attempts to estimate pre-Hispanic populations.

Endnote sources

Page 8

"He called the Admiral's landfall...."

"Message from President George Bush" in Christopher Columbus and the Great Voyage of Discovery, JoAnne B. Weisman and Kenneth M. Deitch (Lowell, Mass.: Discovery Enterprises, Ltd., 1990).

"'...the vanguard of the great European Advance...'"

Salvador de Madariaga, Hernán Cortés (1941) ), quoted in John A. Crow, The Epic of Latin America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 82.

"...Aztecs were ‘mentally deranged'..."

Maurice Collis, Cortés and Montezuma (London: Faber & Faber, 1954), p. 137.

" the same league with the Nazis...."

Miguel Leon-Portilla, La Filosofia Nahuatl  (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1956), p. 177.

Page 9

"Then he went on to observe: ‘ easy it would be to convert these people'...."

Samuel Eliot Morison, Christopher Columbus, Mariner  (New York: New American Library, 1942),  p. 43.

"Here the narrative is transformed into a story that is... ‘too startling for the probabilities demanded by fiction....'"

William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico (New York: Bantam Books, 1964 edition), p. 610.

Page 10

"Beyond this, the Spaniards greatly outclassed the Indians with their superior military technology...."

Robert Ryal Miller, Mexico: A History (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), p. 92.

Page 12

"Prescott informs us that the Mexica were doomed...."

William H. Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico (New York: Bantam Books, 1964 edition), p. 606.

‘"Yet we cannot regret the fall of an empire,..."'

Prescott, p. 610.

"By contrast, his Mexica counterpart is portrayed as dim-witted, vacillating, cowardly, and effeminate, a pathetic figure...."

Prescott, p. 675.

"Even The Rough Guide to Mexico...."

As an additional example, a recent obituary for the anthropologist William T. Sanders, who specialized in early Mesoamerican civilizations, contains the following comment: "In part inspired by reading William H. Prescott's classic book History of the Conquest of Mexico, he earned his doctorate in anthropology from Harvard in 1957" (New York Times, July 16, 2008).

Pages 12 and 13

"The school textbooks they eventually produced...."

Enrique Krauze, La Presencia del Pasado (México: Tusquets Editores, 2005), pp. 86 and 87.

Page 13

"In the late nineteenth century, the educator and historian Justo Sierra...."

Quoted in María del Rosario Peludo Gómez, "Enemigos de la Patria y guerras inevitables: El discurso de la identidad nacional en México y España," Instituto Universitario de Inestigación Ortgega y Gasset, Biblioteca Virtual Española, 2006, p. 8.

"And in Breve Historia de México (1937)...."

The same year, respected Guatemalan historian and novelist Salomé Gil commented in Historia de la América Central: "When the Conquest of America took place Spain was perhaps the strongest and most advanced nation in the world. It brought to these countries a religion that was more pure and spiritual than the idolatry and animal worship that ruled in them, with the odious and barbaric practice of human sacrifice and cannibalism. It brought civil law that it had received from the most cultured and great nation of antiquity; a sonorous and harmonious language, a civilization, in short, that was a reflection of Greece and Rome" (Colección "Juan Chapín" Tomo I.  Guatemala, Julio de 1937, p. 552).

"Similar arguments flowed from the pens of North America's historians..."

Hubert Herring declares in his A History of Latin America from the Beginnings to the Present that "Spain did not introduce cruelty and war: exploitation was an old story to the Indians. Spain did not destroy human freedom: it had never been enjoyed by Maya, Aztec, Inca, or Chibcha [Colombian Indians]. Spain did not destroy ancient systems of noble moral standards: the Indians were masters of gluttony, drunkenness, sexual excesses, and refined torture. Spain brought changes to the Indian world, some for ill, some for good. It is possible that the Indians of Mexico and Peru had more to eat under Spanish rule, more protection against each other and against their masters, more security of life and happiness than they had had under Indian nobles and priests" (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961, p. 153).

In his enthusiastic introduction to a 1964 edition of Prescott's history of Mexico, Henry Bamford Parkes states: " can be agreed that the Spaniards brought to Mexico a higher civilization - higher in its technological development, its intellectual and aesthetic heritage, and its political and religious institutions" (p. 10).

"In Central Mexico, writes John Edwin Fagg in Latin America: A General History...."

John Edwin Fagg, Latin America: A General History (New York: Macmillan, 1964), p. 131.

‘"Within these Indian kingdoms and communities," writes Edwin Williamson....'

Edwin Williamson, Penguin History of Latin America (London: Penguin Books, 1992), p. 86.

‘"The top of the pyramid had been lopped off," writes Marshall Eakin...."'

Marshall Eakin, The History of Latin America: Collision of Cultures (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), p. 74. Even Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa rolls up his sleeves and steps into the ring with an essay titled "Questions of Conquest," published in Harper's Magazine in 1990. He claims that pre-Hispanic Indian society in the Andes was "ant-like" and similar to a "beehive"; the masses had a follow-the-leader mentality and "lacked the ability to make their own decisions." With the Spanish victory, they "transferred automatically from the Incas to the new masters." (This essay ended up in a collection of the best essays of the year, compiled by Joyce Carol Oates: The Best American Essays 1991, New York: Ticknor & Fields.)

"Prescott injects but one brief description of a ‘...terrible epidemic....'"

Prescott, History of the Conquest of Mexico, p. 479.

"When the Spaniards enter Tenochtitlan...."

Ibid., p. 587.

"It is generally accepted today that 50-80 million people were living in the Americas in 1492...."

These figures have been, and still are, debated endlessly by scholars. William Denevan has taken an even hand in reviewing the conflicting estimates and has come up with this figure; see "The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492," Annals of the Association of American Geographers (1992) 82:369-85; and The Native Population of the Americas in 1492, 2nd ed., Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.  Also see David Henige Numbers from Nowhere: The American Indian Contact Population Debate (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press), 1998.

Page 14

"Community death tolls of 50 to 70 percent...." and "Soon after they came ashore they morphed into what epidemiologists call ‘virgin soil epidemics'...."

See Readings, above.

‘"And then came famine...."'

López de Gómara, quoted in Noble David Cook, Born to Die: Disease and New World Conquest, 1492-1650, p. 67.

"After our fathers and grandfathers succumbed....'"

From Annals of the Cakchiquels, p. 16, quoted in Crosby 1967, p. 337.

Page 15

"If they had not made their appearance when they did, neither Cortés nor Pizarro would have prevailed...."

McNeill 1976, Crosby 1967.

"Hugh Thomas positions himself at the other extreme of the argument...."

Hugh Thomas, Conquest: Montezuma, Cortés, and the Fall of Old Mexico (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993), pp. 741-2; Footnote 78.

"He concludes: ‘The difference between the numbers of conquistadors and Mexica dead....'"

Ibid., pp. 528-9.

"A similar approach is evident...."

See, for example, J.H. Elliott, "The Spanish Conquest and Settlement of America" in The Cambridge History of Latin America,  Vol. 1 (Colonial Latin America),  ed. by Leslie Bethell (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), pp. 149-206; Inga Clendinnen, Aztecs: An Interpretation (Cambridge University Press, 1991), and "‘Fierce and Unnatural Cruelty': Cortés and the Conquest of Mexico" in Representations 33 (1991), pp. 65-100; and Ross Hassig  "The Collision of Two Worlds," in The Oxford History of Mexico, ed. by Michael C. Meyer & William H. Beezley (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 79-112.

‘"The apparition of Antichrist was announced many times...."'

Philip Ziegler, The Black Death (Gloucestershire, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1991),  p. 223.

Page 17

"Finally, the Indians proved to be ‘inefficient' as laborers...."

Eric Williams, "Economics, Not Racism, as the Root of Slavery," in The Atlantic Slave Trade, ed. by David Northrup (Florence, KY: Wadsworth Publishing, 2001),  p. 4.  Williams was a prominent politician and historian from Trinidad-Tobago.

‘"And when we saw all those cities and villages built in the water..."'

Bernal Díaz del Castillo (translated and edited by J.M. Cohen), The Conquest of New Spain (New York: Penguin Books, 1974), p. 214.  


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