HIST 498          Benjamin Schmidt

Spring 1998      Office: 204D Smith

203B Smith       Off. Hrs.: M 11:30-1

Europe and the New World

Undergraduate Colloquium


This colloquium seeks to examine the European encounter with the New World, the literature of Discovery, and the historical and cultural contexts of Renaissance exploration, expansion, and colonization. It is concerned less with the course of the Conquista or with events that took place in America than with the intellectual and literary responses of Renaissance Europe to the dramatic revelation of a "new" world. Through close readings of the literature of discovery, we will consider the means by which authors contextualized the radical novelty of the mondus novus. Examination of other, typically Renaissance works of prose and poetry--works not primarily related to the voyages of discovery, such as Thomas More's Utopia and Shakespeare's The Tempest--will be studied to ascertain how and in what manner the New World was integrated into traditional systems of European thought and culture. Special attention will be paid to the multiple genres employed to describe the New World (historical narrative, romance of chivalry, epic poetry, polemical tract), as well as the political and social contexts of these works. Traditional Americana, moreover, will be considered in light of ongoing Renaissance debates on humanism and the revival of antiquity, religious and social reformation, science and the advancement of learning. This colloquium aims ultimately to raise questions about geographic imagination in Renaissance Europe and about the broader social, cultural, and political setting of the Age of Exploration.

Readings and topics for discussion:

Weekly readings will focus on primary texts that in some way report on "discoveries" and related travels, or that otherwise demonstrate European reactions to the news of America. Secondary readings, selectively and sparingly used, will provide historical background to the voyages of exploration as well as to the Renaissance more generally. Those texts available for purchase at the UW Bookstore have been indicated with an asterisk (*). Otherwise, virtually all readings can be found on reserve at Odegaard Library. Copies of some briefer texts may be handed out in class, and we will consult some texts--particularly maps and other contemporary prints--in the Special Collections of the Suzzallo/Allen Library.

I. Marvelous landscapes of the Middle Ages

Week 1. Introduction and overview of the course.

Week 2. Marco Polo, The Travels of Marco Polo * (c. 1298/9; Penguin, 1958), 33-45, 113-162, 243-249, 344-345.

Sir John Mandeville, The Travels of Sir John Mandeville * (mid-14th century; Penguin, 1983), 43-45, 104-190, 192-193.

handouts on medieval mappae mundi and late-medieval woodcuts of "wonders"

Assignment: Describe the world according to Sir John and the intrepid Marco. What did it look like? How big was it? How was it oriented? Who--or what--inhabited it?

These readings and sources are meant to suggest something of the mental world of the earliest European explorers. What, or who, occupied the mental world of late-medieval travelers? What sorts of assumptions might Renaissance explorers have taken with them on their voyages west? How might images derived from Asian travels shaped reports of American discoveries? How might medieval eschatology and the geography of "earthly paradise" have influenced early descriptions of America?

II. First sights and traditional visions

Week 3. Christopher Columbus, The Four Voyages * (select documents, 1493-1503; Penguin, 1969), 115-123, 206-226, 283-304.

Amerigo Vespucci, Letters from a New World (c. 1500-1505; Marsilio, 1992), 45-97.

E. Rice and A. Grafton, Foundations of Early Modern Europe * (Norton, 1994), 18-32, 38-44.

Assignment: Who, among the authors read this week and last--Polo, Mandeville, Columbus, and Vespucci--"discovered the New World"? What does it mean to discover a new world, circa 1492?

Week 4. Pietro Martire d' Anghiera (Peter Martyr), The Decades (c. 1510-1520), vol. 1, 57-185.

A. Grafton, New Worlds, Ancient Texts (Harvard UP, 1992), 28-58.

Rice and Grafton, Early Modern Europe, 77-109.

Film: 1492: The Conquest of Paradise (1992; dir. Ridley Scott; with Gerard Depardieu, Sigourney Weaver).

Assignment: (1) Bring to class five study questions. (2) Using the sources read over the last two weeks--as well as your cinema savvy--critique the film 1492. Does the movie work in terms of drama? credibility? history? cinema? Cite the relevant primary sources, as necessary, to substantiate your critique. (This assignment is due in my box by Monday, 5 PM.)

Consider how the earliest explorers describe the New World. Why do we call the continent(s) they discovered "America" and not "Columbia"? What distinguishes explorers circa 1500 from their medieval predecessors? In what way did the humanist culture of the Renaissance influence the earliest histories of the New World?

III. Conquest and empire

Week 5. Hernán Cortés, Letters from Mexico * (1519-26; Yale UP, 1986), 3-113 (or through 159).

Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Conquest of New Spain * (c. 1555; Penguin, 1963), 14-15, 44-56, 85-219 (or through 244).

J. H. Elliott, "Cortés, Velázquez and Charles V," in Letters from Mexico, xi-xxxvii.

Assignment: Answer one of the following:

(1) How does Cortés conquer New Spain?

(2) How does Cortés conquer Mexico?

(3) How does Bernal Diaz conquer Cortés?

In all cases, consider what constitutes the process of Conquista, or conquest, in the early sixteenth century, and explain how the texts you've considered serve the author's agenda.

Week 6. Bartolomé de Las Casas, Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies * (1542; Penguin 1992), entire.

Anthony Pagden, "Introduction," in Short Account, xiii-xliii.

illustrations from Las Casas (reproduced in the Penguin edition) and from Theodore de Bry's late 16th century Americae (handouts); slides (to be shown in class) of images from the New World (incl. Mostaert, Stradanus, de Bry, Eckhout).

Assignment: How does Las Casas' depiction of the Conquista compare/contrast with the images of the same used to illustrate Theodore de Bry's international editions of the Brevíssima relación? Pay special attention in your essay to the author's and engraver's respective representations of the natives and the Spaniards. How do you account for their differences?

Week 7. Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, Castaways * (1542/1555; California UP, 1992), entire.

Alonso de Ercilla y Zúñiga, The Araucaniad (1569-1589), 26-8, 33-50 (and skim).

Luis Vaz de Camões, The Lusiads (1572), Book One.

Assignment: Compose a (very) mini-epic on one of the following topics:

1) the Puritan "conquest" of Massachusetts;

2) the Anglo "conquest" of the Pacific Northwest;

3) your own conquest of Seattle and/or UW;

4) a monumental confrontation in politics, sports or the arts.

The conquest of Mexico and the numerous reports thereof provide an opportunity to explore the multiple perspectives of the chroniclers. How does Cortés's vigorous report to the emperor differ from Bernal Diaz's account, written many years later for a "popular" audience? What "spin" on these events did the Low Countries publisher, Theodore de Bry, later give? What is the difference between the account of the adventurer, Cabeza de Vaca, and that of the royal epics, Alonso de Ercilla? What constitutes an "epic" history? What effect does literary genre have on the telling of history?

IV. Politics, religion, and society

Week 8. Jean de Léry, History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil * (1578; California UP, 1990), xli-lxii, 3-6, 33-51, 56-68, 112-219.

Michel de Montaigne, "On cannibals" and "On coaches" (c. 1570-88).

Richard Hakluyt, "Epistle Dedicatorie to the Right Honorable Sir Francis Walsingham," in The Principall Navigations (1589); and selected readings on "Western Planting (1584-5).

Sir Walter Ralegh, "Of the Voyage for Guiana" (1596).

Rice and Grafton, Early Modern Europe, 146-177.

Assignment: Assess Léry's opinion of the native Americans. Does the term "noble savage" apply here? How do politics, religion, and society shape ethnographic reporting?

These readings all offer perspectives from authors outside of--and in the case of Ralegh and Hakluyt, hostile to--Spain. How were events in America assimilated into broader debates of early modern Europe? How did they influence, or even contribute to, contemporary religious, social, and political tensions? How did the New World serve a Protestant or even a "nationalist" agenda?

V. Brave new worlds

Week 9. Sir Thomas More, Utopia * (1516; Cambridge UP, 1989).

Sir Francis Bacon, New Atlantis (1627).

maps/atlases by Abraham Ortelius, Willem Blaeu, and other cartographers (meet at the "Special Collections" seminar room in the Allen wing of Suzzallo Library).

Assignment: Bring to class (1) five study questions on the readings; (2) an outline of, and introductory paragraph to, your term paper.

Week 10. William Shakespeare, The Tempest * (1610; Pelican, 1970).

J. H. Elliott, The Old World and the New * (Cambridge UP, 1992), 1-53.

Assignment: First draft of term paper due (optional) for those who wish to receive feedback for their second draft.

The discoveries are considered to be the inspirations for the utopian literature of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. How should we read these masterpieces of English literature in light of our understanding of the discoveries? How did the knowledge of new worlds affect the "advancement of learning" and the expansion of knowledge? What, in the end, was the impact of the New World on the Old?

Writings and Requirements:

Weekly writing assignments accompany the readings, as indicated above. These consist of brief papers (2-3 pp.) of various form and focus. The writing assignments are a crucial component of the course and an essential part of your weekly contribution to the colloquium. Though they will not receive individual numerical gradings, they will be assessed, cumulatively, in terms of your writing, originality, and engagement with the texts. More on this in class. There will also be a final, synthetic essay, 8-10 pages in length, due at the end of the term (see assignments for weeks nine and ten above). Additionally, I will ask students, on a voluntary basis, to make oral presentations on the authors we read or on other original sources consulted (e.g., maps, prints, paintings). More on this, too, in class. Last but not least, students are expected to come to our weekly meetings with detailed notes on the readings and well prepared to engage in wide ranging, vigorous discussion of the texts. Participation in these discussions is an integral part of this colloquium, the success of which depends on your involvement. Your grade for the course will reflect, in equal measure, your participation in class discussions, your weekly writing assignments, and your final paper.

N.B. The term paper, in its final form, is due by Friday, June 5th, 3:00 PM (in my box at 315 Smith Hall). Late papers--which must be officially dated by the History Department Office--will be marked down 0.1 grade per day late.

Secondary Texts:

The secondary texts listed below have all been placed on reserve at Odegaard Library. They are meant to offer background and supplementary readings, which might be helpful in the preparation of your longer, end-of-term essay. This list is by no means exhaustive, though it should provide a useful point of departure in your research.

E. Rice and A. Grafton, The Foundations of Early Modern Europe

J. H. Parry, The Age of Reconnaissance

J. R. Hale, Renaissance Exploration

J. H. Elliott, The Old World and the New

A. Pagden, European Encounters with the New World

A. Grafton, New Worlds, Ancient Texts

S. J. Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions

Valerie Flint, The Imaginative Landscape of Christopher Columbus

William and Carla Phillips, The Worlds of Christopher Columbus

H. Thomas, Conquest

Charles Gibson, Spain in America

James Lockhart, We People Here: Nahuatl Accounts of the Conquest of Mexico

Nathan Wachtel, The Vision of the Vanquished (on the Inca)

A. Pagden, The Fall of Natural Man

B. Pastor Bodmer, The Armature of Conquest

S. J. Greenblatt, Sir Walter Ralegh

Jay Levenson, Circa 1492

Hugh Honour, The New Golden Land: European Images of America

J. B. Harley, Maps and the Colombian Encounter

Werner Herzog (dir.), "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972; with Klaus Kinski)