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Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest


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About the Author

Matthew Restall is Professor of Latin American History, Women's Studies, and Anthropology, and Director of Latin American Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is the author of five books, including Maya Conquistador and The Maya World. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania.


According to historical consensus, the Spanish conquest of the New World was a cataclysm in which superior European technology and organization overwhelmed Native American civilizations. In this daring revisionist critique, Penn State historian Restall describes a far more complex process in which Indians were central participants on both sides of the struggle. Far from regarding the Spaniards as gods, Restall argues, Indians offered a variety of shrewd, pragmatic responses to the invaders while advancing their own political agendas. Indeed, given that the conquistadors were vastly outnumbered by their Indian allies, the Conquest was in many respects a civil war between natives. Nor did Indian societies fall apart at one blow: independent Mayan polities, for example, persisted into the 19th century. Even under Spanish rule, Indians continued to live in self-governing communities, where they maintained their own languages, cultures and leaders who had considerable clout with the colonial administration. Drawing on Spanish, Native American and West African accounts of the Conquest, academic studies and even Hollywood movies, Restall examines the paradigm of European triumph and Indian "desolation" as it evolved from the conquistador's self-serving narratives to contemporary interpretations by such writers as Jared Diamond and Kirkpatrick Sale. Rejecting the implicit juxtaposition of "subhuman" Indians with "superhuman" Europeans, Restall asserts instead that, through war and epidemic, native societies retained much of their autonomy and cohesion, and "turn[ed] calamity into opportunity." Restall's provocative analysis, wide-ranging scholarship and lucid prose make this a stimulating contribution to the debate on one of history's great watersheds. Photos. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest is an engaging and highly readable account of the history of the conquest of the Amerias."--Jennifer Jobb, Against the Current "A daring revisionist critique.... Restall's provocative analysis, wide-ranging scholarship and lucid prose make this a stimulating contribution to the debate on one of history's great watersheds."--Publishers Weekly "This is an important book. It should be read by all high school world history teachers, and by professors of the same....a powerful indictment of the myths that we all inadvertently rely on to explain a complex and distant period. It will undoubtedly stir up a discussion about the reality of these myths and what others might find in both popular and scholarly writing in this field, and others." --American Historical Review

Was Christopher Columbus considered a great explorer in his day? Were all of the Conquistadors white? The answers to these questions and more are found in this loosely connected collection of essays designed to correct misconceptions that pervade most accounts of the Spanish conquest of the New World. Restall (director, Latin American studies, Pennsylvania State Univ.; The Maya World: Yucatec Culture and Society, 1550-1850) relies on both Spanish sources and often ignored native accounts (primarily Maya) to argue that the Spanish efforts in the Americas would have never succeeded without the immense contributions of their rarely acknowledged allies, namely, Native Americans and Africans. His compelling and revisionist presentation ultimately demonstrates that from the beginning of the Spanish Conquest, the way of life that evolved in the Americas was shaped in concert by diverse peoples of European, Native American, and African descent. This multidisciplinary work is recommended for all academic libraries and larger public libraries.-John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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