1491 by by Charles C. Mann :: New Spain in the Age of Exploration :: Colonial American History Reading Group

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New Spain and The American Age of Exploration - Colonial American Reading Group

We are a friendly and respectful group of people interested in reading great books about the history of New Spain in North America, mainly in the area which would become the United States and Mexico with a heavy focus on the El Norte borderlands.

Our Weekly readings will be posted to our Colonial American History Reading Group Page.

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Our Current Chapter and Reading Schedule

Chapter 1
| Chapter 2 and 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6

  • Week 1 :: 1491, Chapter 1: A View From Above

    Thought Questions
    - What does the author want the reader to understand when thinking about the story of Beni?
    - In what ways are anthropoloy and archeology changing Pre-Columbian history?
    - What were the Neolithic Revolutions?
    - In what ways is "Holmberg’s Mistake" instructive for today?

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "In the 1970s, they said, most authorities would have answered my question about the Sirionó in one way. Today most would answer it in another, different way. The difference involves what I came to think of, rather unfairly, as Holmberg’s Mistake."
    - "Nonetheless, he was wrong about the Sirionó. And he was wrong about the Beni, the place they inhabited—wrong in a way that is instructive, even exemplary."
    - "But flaws in perspective often appear obvious only after they are pointed out. In this case they took decades to rectify."
  • Week 2 :: 1491 by Charles C. Mann
    Chapter 2: Why Billington Survived and Chapter 3: In the Land of Four Quarters

    Chapters 2 and 3 are part one and two of a single story comparing two very different societies - the Native Americans of Southern New England and the Native Americans of Peru.

    Chapter 2: Thought Questions
    - What attitudes and beliefs dominated the Wampanoag and the New English about the other?
    - How were the attitudes and beliefs held by the Wampanoag and the New English counterproductive to a cultural understanding?
    - In what ways did the Wampanoag hope to benefit from and control their relationship with the New English?
    - In what ways did the New English hope to benefit from and control their relationship with the Wampanoag?
    - How were the living conditions of the Wampanoag and New English similar? Why did they fail to see these similarities?
    - In what ways were the living conditions of the Wampanoag and New English mutually exclusive of the other?
    - In what ways did the Wampanoag and New English impact their natural environment?
    - Compare and Contrast the gender and generation roles of the Wampanoag and New English

    Chapter 2: Response / Thought Quotes
    - "Second, although the stories of early contact—the Wampanoag with the English, the Inka with the Spaniards—are as dissimilar as their protagonists, many archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians have recently come to believe that they have deep commonalities."
    - "The Mi’kmaq in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia scoffed at the notion of European superiority. If Christian civilization was so wonderful, why were its inhabitants all trying to settle somewhere else?"
    - "Massasoit shepherded his people through the wave of settlement, and the pact he signed with Plymouth lasted for more than fifty years. Only in 1675 did one of his sons, angered at being pushed around by colonists’ laws, launch what was perhaps an inevitable attack. Indians from many other groups joined in. The conflict, brutal and sad, tore through New England."

    Chapter 3: Thought Questions
    - Compare and Contrast the Inka peoples with the native peoples of Southern New England
    - Compare and Contrast the Spanish Conquistadors in Peru with the English "Conquistadors" in Southern New England
    - Compare and Contrast the Inka peoples with the English settlers in Southern New England
    - Compare and Contrast the impact Inka peoples and colonial English people had on American natives that came under their control
    - Compare and Contrast the role terrain and geography played with the natives of Southern New England and the Inka peoples
    - Compare and Contrast the role economic exchange played with the natives of Southern New England and the Inka peoples
    - Compare and Contrast the role shifting alliance building played with the native of Southern New England and the Inka peoples
    - Compare and Contrast the methods and purposes of warfare for the native of Southern New England and the Inka peoples
    - Compare and Contrast the reaction to Europeans by the native of Southern New England and the Inka peoples
    - Compare and Contrast the reaction of Inka peoples to Europeans with the reaction of Andean civilizations to the Inka peoples

    Chapter 3: Response / Thought Quotes
    - "Dobyns was struck by the disparity between the large number of burials recorded at the parish and the far smaller number of baptisms."
    - "In 1491 the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth. Bigger than Ming Dynasty China, bigger than Ivan the Great’s expanding Russia, bigger than Songhay in the Sahel or powerful Great Zimbabwe in the West Africa tablelands, bigger than the cresting Ottoman Empire, bigger than the Triple Alliance (as the Aztec empire is more precisely known), bigger by far than any European state, the Inka dominion extended over a staggering thirty-two degrees of latitude—as if a single power held sway from St. Petersburg to Cairo."

    - Wrong Bones in That Sarcophagus : 444 Years Later, Mystery of Pizarro Is Laid to Rest
  • Week 3 :: 1491, Chapter 4: Frequently Asked Questions

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - “The window opened and slammed shut. When the French came in and the record opened up again, it was a transformed reality. A civilization crumbled. The question is, how did this happen?”
    - "De Soto’s company was too small to be an effective biological weapon. Sicknesses like measles and smallpox would have burned through his six hundred men long before they reached the Mississippi. But that would not have been true for his pigs."
    - “That’s one reason whites think of Indians as nomadic hunters,” Russell Thornton, an anthropologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, said to me. “Everything else—all the heavily populated urbanized societies—was wiped out.”
    - “the errors multiply each other and can escalate rapidly to an unacceptable magnitude.”
    - "When the Spanish governor tried to recruit the Hopi to live in missions, their leaders told him not to bother: the epidemic soon would expunge them from the earth."
    - "Europeans were well versed in the brutal logic of quarantine. When plague appeared, they boarded up houses and fled to the countryside. By contrast, the historian Neal Salisbury observed, family and friends in Indian New England gathered at the sufferer’s bedside to wait out the illness, a practice that “could only have served to spread the disease more rapidly.”"
    - "Cultures are like books, the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once remarked, each a volume in the great library of humankind. In the sixteenth century, more books were burned than ever before or since."
    - "Can there be anything more magnificent than that this barbarian lord should have all the things to be found under the heavens in his domain, fashioned in gold and silver and jewel and feathers? And so realistic in gold and silver that no smith in the world could have done better? And in jewels so fine that it is impossible to imagine with what instruments they were cut so perfectly? … In Spain there is nothing to compare with it."
    - “For wherever the Spaniards have passed, conquering and discovering, it is as though a fire had gone, destroying everything in its path.”

    Thought Questions
    - Who was Hernando De Soto, what was his background in Peru and describe his passage through the future Southeast United States
    - Who was Hernán Cortés, what was his background and describe the role he played in the destruction of Native America
    - Who was Pizarro to Tawantinsuyu, what was his background and what role did he play in the destruction of Native America
    - Explain and Expand: "He sailed to Florida with six hundred soldiers, two hundred horses, and three hundred pigs."
    - What role did domesticated animals play in the lives of pre-contact Native Americans?
    - How did European domesticated animals interact with Native American domesticated animals and what where the consequences?
    - Who were the Caddo and Coosa and what was their experience with European raiders
    - What was the French reaction to the De Soto attack on Native America?
    - Describe the challenges associated with estimating pre-contact Native American populations and post-contact death rates
    - What are "Virgin Soil" epidemics?
    - Compare and Contrast virgin soil epidemics in Europe, Siberia and Native America
    - Describe some of the challenges archaeologists face in interpreting evidence about Native America?
    - How does living norms and environmental factors impact Native American archeology?
    - Given the rebuttals, why have the majority of researchers nonetheless become High Counters?
    - Why hypothesize the existence of vast, super-deadly pandemics that seem unlike anything else in the historical record?
    - Explain and Expand: "The implication, implausible at first glance, was that Indians in their virgin-soil state were more vulnerable to European diseases than virgin-soil Europeans would have been."
    - Describe the distinction between different types of disease susceptibility.
    - React and Respond: "But the native population as a whole had a “very limited spectrum of responses.” And that, he said, “could be a real problem in the right circumstances.” For Indians, those circumstances arrived with Columbus."
    - Explain the relationship between indigenous Siberians and Native Americans
    - Describe the social and psychological impact on survivors of virgin soil epidemics
    - Compare and Contrast the epidemics of the 1770s and 1780s,with earlier epidemics
    - Who were the Mexica and what role did they play in the "Triple Alliance"?
    - Who was Bernardino de Sahagún and how did he develop his "Histories"?
    - Describe Teotihuacan and the Toltecs.
    - Who was Tlacaelel and what role did he play in the Aztec Empire?
    - Describe the myths and realities of human sacrifice and ceremonial public slaughter in Europe and the Aztec Empire
    - Expand and Explain: "Weighing loss of such scale, one naturally wants to identify and denounce the responsible party."
    - Who was Bartolomé de las Casas?
    - React and Respond: "Europe’s defenders argue that the mass deaths cannot be described as genocide. The epidemics often were not even known to Europeans, still less deliberately caused by them."
    - React and Respond: "Not so fast, say the activists. Europeans may not have known about microbes, but they thoroughly understood infectious disease. ... Coming from places that had suffered many such experiences, Europeans fully grasped the potential consequences of smallpox."
    - React and Respond: "The conquistadors knew the potential impact of disease, but its actual impact, which they could not control, was in the hands of God."

    Articles and References
    - Brief Biography: Hernando De Soto
    - Brief Biography: Pizarro to Tawantinsuyu
    - The Caddo Native Americans
    - The Aztecs / Mexica
    - Tenochtitlan
    - Brief Biography: Bernardino de Sahagún
    - Teotihuacan and the Toltecs
    - Brief Biography: Bartolomé de las Casas

    Further Reading
    - The Hernando de Soto Expedition: History, Historiography, and "Discovery" in the Southeast: History, Historiography and "Discovery" in the Southeast by Patricia Kay Galloway
    - Tlacaelel Remembered: Mastermind of the Aztec Empire by Susan Schroeder
  • Week 4 :: 1491, Chapter 5: Pleistocene Wars

    Response / Thought Quotes
    - "Many natives, seeking to categorize the newcomers, were open to the possibility that they might belong to the realm of the supernatural."
    - "Acosta weighed the Indians-as-Jews theory but eventually dismissed it because Indians were not circumcised."
    - "Because Clovis was so dry, its stratigraphy—the sequence of geological layers—had not been jumbled up by later waterflow, a common archaeological hazard."
    - "Clovis culture had a distinctive set of tools: scrapers, spear-straighteners, hatchetlike choppers, crescent-moon-shaped objects whose function remains unknown."

    Thought Questions
    - In what ways has science increased our understanding of history?
    - What are some of the theories about the origins of Native Americans?
    - How did the folklore of the "lost tribes" of Israel impact beliefs about the origins of Native Americans?
    - Explain and Expand: - "As a rule, Indians were theologically prepared for the existence of Europeans."
    - Explain and Expand: - "Contact with Indians caused Europeans considerably more consternation."
    - Who was José de Acosta and what contribution did he make to understanding the origins of Native Americans?
    - Describe the Clovis civilization(s)
    - Describe the three-migrations theory

    Primary Sources
    - Natural and Moral History of the Indies by José de Acosta

    Articles and Resources
    - Brief Biography: José de Acosta
    - Overview: Natural and Moral History of the Indies

    Further Reading
    - Early Native Americans in West Virginia by Darla Spencer
    - Across Atlantic Ice: The Origin of America's Clovis Culture by Dennis J. Stanford, and Bruce A. Bradley
    - Clovis: On the Edge of a New Understanding by Ashley M. Smallwood (Editor),‎ Thomas A. Jennings (Editor)
    - The Early Settlement of North America: The Clovis Era by Gary Haynes
    - First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America by David J. Meltzer

The First Books On Our Reading List

  1. 1491 (Second Edition): New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann
  2. 1492: The Year the World Began by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
  3. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann
  4. Spain: The Centre of the World 1519-1682 by Robert Goodwin
  5. Spain in the Southwest: A Narrative History of Colonial New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and California by John L. Kessell
  6. Thrown Among Strangers: The Making of Mexican Culture in Frontier California by Douglas Monroy
  7. Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz
  8. Texas and Northeastern Mexico, 1630-1690 by Juan Bautista Chapa
  9. Asian Slaves in Colonial Mexico: From Chinos to Indians by Tatiana Seijas
  10. Spaniards, Planters, and Slaves: The Spanish Regulation of Slavery in Louisiana, 1763-1803 by Gilbert C. Din
  11. The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest by David Roberts

Click here for our complete reading list