The Conquest of Mexico An Annotated Bibliography Dr. Nancy Fitch Professor of History California State University, Fullerton
General Discussion of the Primary Sources Used in This Project
[Note of clarification: I am using the word Mexica to refer to the people who controlled Tenochititlán when the Spanish arrived in 1519. This indigenous population is usually, but wrongly, referred to as the Aztecs. The Mexica had conquered much of what is now modern-day Mexico, and many of those conquered people spoke their language, Nahuatl, so that not all Nahuatl-speaking natives were Mexica. Others, especially in the south and what is now Central America, spoke various dialects of Mayan. Where possible, I will try to identify the specific indigenous people who wrote the manuscripts. In other cases, if the codices are in Nahuatl, I will describe their authors as Nahuas, following the practice of Mexican historian, Miguel León-Portilla.] There are only a handful of primary sources available on the conquest of Mexico, and all of them are “tainted” in at least some ways. Many historians would accept only Don Hernán Cortés’s letters to King Charles V as “genuine” primary sources, since they were written by the Spanish conqueror in his native language at the time he was battling the Mexica. But during much of the conquest, Cortés’s letters could be interpreted as an attempt to justify his deliberate failure to obey Diego Velazquez de Cellar, the Spanish governor in Cuba, the sponsor of his expedition. Moreover, the first and fifth letters were lost until a French scholar found them in Vienna (sixteenth century Spain was part of the Hapsburg Empire) in the eighteenth century. The published first letter was, in fact, not Cortés’s original letter, but one revised by a committee with the deliberate intention of positively influencing Charles V. The Spanish conquistador Bernal Díaz del Castillo wrote his version of what he had witnessed during the conquest, The True History of the...