Conference on Latin American History 48
Session Title: The Many Conquests of America Panel Abstract: Since the quincentennial of the Columbian landfall, scholars have been revisiting the conquest of America. New frameworks (i.e. linguistic and cultural translation), perspectives (i.e. those of “Indian conquistadors”), and data (including indigenous language and pictographic sources) have challenged the traditional story that small bands of European conquerors subdued the indigenous societies of the Americas with their cultural, military, and technological superiority, or the more recent spinoff that the conquest must be credited to guns, germs, and steel. The result is a more nuanced set of narratives that 1) emphasize negotiation and partnership with indigenous peoples during the period of military engagement and its aftermath; 2) extend the chronological framework of the conquest such that it is seen not as a finite process, but an unfolding or unfinished process; 3) recognize the geographical limits of European domination in the Americas, and look to the “peripheries” for alternative histories. The papers in this panel grow out of and contribute to this rich “new conquest history” in a geographically comparative fashion (the Andes, Brazil, and Mesoamerica), and push our understanding of “conquest” beyond the realm of military engagement to include cartography and representation of landscape; the creation of European/indigenous alliances through marriage; the resignification of the sacred through place-making; and the establishment and maintenance of a colonial bureaucracy and administration through linguistic domination. When we revisit the conquest in this light, we must rethink our central assumptions. Should we include indigenous wives of Spanish conquistadors, indigenous “Spanish” bureaucrats, “Indian conquistadors,” Portuguese cartographers, and Catholic friars as “conquerors”? And what about indigenous groups who were never militarily conquered, but practiced Catholicism and used Nahuatl (the language of Central Mexico and the lingua franca of New Spain during the sixteenth century), a language that they did not use prior to the arrival of Europeans? How did the refashioning of sacred space and local landscapes shape indigenous and European understandings of conquest? Did indigenous peoples see the “conquest” as a “conquest”? Our panelists' research addresses these provocative questions, and suggests that the many conquests of America as co-produced by European and indigenous actors consolidated European domination at the same time that it opened spaces to challenge, destabilize, and undermine it.