English 328, Colonial Society: New Spain

Let’s try to place ourselves back at the dawn of the Spanish colonial era.  You are a subject within the Aztec Empire.  Your nation has lost a war, and the victors are changing society.  What was called Tenochtitlan (“place of the prickly pear cactus”) is now called “New Spain” to indicate a “new” holding of the Spanish crown.

Among the changes are language (from Nahuatl into Spanish) and religion (Christianity).  What do you suppose some of the adaptive challenges would be for the native people?  How might they approach the new spheres of culture, religion, intermarriage, social privilege, and their general place inside the new Mexico?


For this week’s post, you are required to watch a contemporary romantic comedy (anything after 2000).  Share with the class what you saw and how it relates to the other two films we’ve seen for class, It Happened One Night and Annie Hall.  Does it update those films (DYNAMIC)?  In what does it remain part of the formula (STATIC)?

One person needs to hit reply to this message, and then we’ll start a cascade of responses.  Let’s get those in on time and in 100 words as indicated by your syllabus.

English 329, “Moby-Dick”

This is your opportunity to respond to the first third of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.   You must have had expectations before starting to read.  Have they been met?  Are there difficulties you are dealing with as a twenty-first century reader of a nineteenth century text?  What have you found surprising in the book?  In sharing your experience, You may choose to focus in on a particular chapter, passage, or character.

English 328-“The European Conquest”

Now that we’ve read Bernal Díaz Del Castillo’s The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, we shall take up a contentious issue in the study of Europe’s encounter with Native America.  In this case, Bernal Díaz, a soldier under Hernan Cortés, narrates the conquest of the Aztecs.  One of the strategies that the author uses is evident in the description of Tlatelolco marketplace in Mexico City (chapter 91).  The author resorts to a preexisting frame of knowledge, most of all when describing idols as “satanic” and “hellish.”  (The Aztecs, of course, would have no knowledge of the Christian Bible at this time.)  The author references the similar market stalls in “Medina del Campo” (48) in Spain as one example of commonality.  He also remarks: “They [the Aztecs] bring as many slaves to be sold in that market as the Portuguese bring Negroes from Guinea” (48).  Here, too, there is a reference to a preexisting example of African slavery in the Iberian Peninsula (where Portugal and Spain are located).  The point in such examples is that there is something in common with Europe.  It breaks down the radical newness of the “New World” and makes it digestible for his European readers.

Perhaps this is really the only way to do this as a writer-explorer.  If we were to land on the moon and find unknown inhabitants we would likely compare them (favorable and/or unfavorably) to people on earth.  There is something similar going on here.  But let’s also consider how the reality of “America” here gets lost in translation.  What, if anything, would constitute an act of seeing with eyes better attuned to the diversity and specificity of this place?  It may help to imagine yourself seeing this part of the world for the first time, and trying to make sense of it.

English 328, Christopher Columbus

You’ve read an excerpt from Christopher Columbus’s letter on the first voyage.  This was a letter written to the Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.  It giving an account of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbeans (which Columbus misnames “Indians.”).  We learn a lot about Columbus’s worldview in terms of religion, private property, and social decorum.  What we never get is an account of what the native people (some of which Columbus took captive) think.  Let’s see if we can’t change this.  Are there moments, perhaps cracks in Columbus’s narrative, where we can hear the native “speak”?  Quote a short passage from the text, and explain what the native individual may be thinking.  Perhaps it’s a moment when Columbus misunderstood something.  This requires creative thinking in combination with context clues.  By considering these hidden voices, we may get a fuller view of the “discovery” as one in which two sides first meet.