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Comparative Essay-Restall and Hassig

Comparative Essay-Restall and Hassig

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Published by Andrew S. Terrell
Restall, Matthew. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Hassig, Ross. Mexico and the Spanish Conquest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.
Restall, Matthew. Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Hassig, Ross. Mexico and the Spanish Conquest. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.

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Published by: Andrew S. Terrell on Dec 07, 2010
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04/20/2011

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Restall, Matthew.
Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest 
. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.Hassig, Ross.
Mexico and the Spanish Conquest.
Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.
 The two monographs under review within cover facets of the Spanish Conquest of LatinAmerica in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Matthew Restall’s
Seven Myths of the SpanishConquest,
chose to take a successive approach to seven popular myths as the title suggested.While such a monograph certainly has its place in modern scholarship, one is left withoutspecifics of the conquest itself, and therefore unable to make independent deductions. Restall’smonograph was better suited for those already fluent in specifics and ongoing scholarly debate of the Spanish Conquest of America. Enter Ross Hassig’s
Mexico and the Spanish Conquest 
, amonograph which from the beginning chose to be a retelling of what Hassig determined wasmost likely correct information drawn from a pool of first and secondhand accounts as well assuccessive scholarship centuries later. Hassig chose to use a narrative approach to history toallow his readers to make their own interpretations of the events. These were the fundamentaldifferences between the two recent publications. Though neither are necessarily more practicalthan the other, different audiences will appreciate one or the other inevitably. This reader contends the debunking attempts of Restall, however, are insufficiently defended when comparedwith Hassig’s more thorough depiction of this period in history.The first major discrepancy between the two monographs is that of the conquistadors andtheir men. Were they soldiers, or were they as Restall contends merely fortune seekersinexperienced with combat and most certainly not soldiers? Hassig used great details insuccessive chapters covering the early encounters of the Spanish and Mesoamerican natives. Inthese retellings, the reader is convinced the Spanish had superior fire power in gun powder,suitable armor that kept wounds to the limbs, and stronger steel blades that kept their edge
Andrew S. Terrell
- HIST 6393: Atlantic America to 1750 1 September 2010
1
 
longer. However, Hassig is also quick to point out many early military defeats of Spanish forces,especially along the Yucatan under Córdoba’s lead. Restall went to great lengths to expose amyth that the men accompanying many Spanish escapades were not fighting men, but Hassig’saccounts show 200:1 odds against the Spanish. The overwhelming numbers against the Spanishforces were cited as key components to victories against the aggressive Spanish invaders, andyet, many Spanish survived these fights because of the technologies mentioned earlier. Onefinds it very difficult to believe the first Spaniards to explore on land the coasts of Mexico weremere treasure hunters as depicted by Restall. It seems much more likely that they were trained towork as a functional military unit akin to the European armies of the day. Another issue was thesheer cost for armor at the time; if the men who marched with Córtes and his contemporarieswere not trained soldiers how would they have been able to carry the added weight and knownmilitary formations? There are too many open ended issues with naming the men who landed onearly Mexico untrained combatants.Unlike the variations between who the Spaniards were, stories of Córtes and his firstimpressions of the Aztecs are much closer in synthesis. Restall notes frequently that riches wereactively sought everywhere, but once they landed in Mesoamerica, the Spaniards accepted thatriches were to be found in vegetation rather than trace amounts of gold and silver as predictedearlier. Hassig, however, retells an early encounter were gold items were traded with Córtes inhis first fortification on the beaches of central Mexico. Hassig goes so far as to suggest that thissealed the fate of the Aztec Empire; the Spanish were at the end of the day greedy treasurehunters as Restall concurred.
Andrew S. Terrell
- HIST 6393: Atlantic America to 1750 1 September 2010
2
 
Another similarity between the two monographs was the alliances’ importance for Córtes’s missions. Restall, however gave tribute to West Africans and Native Americanswhereas Hassig described the majority of Córtes’s forces to be Natives from allied tribes after the battles with the Tlaxcallan. However, up to those battles, Hassig sufficiently proves that theSpanish army presence in Mexico was made up of three hundred soldiers and a few nobles fromallied tribes, and then several porters. There is ample evidence of African porters, however,Hassig’s retelling suggests many of the Island Natives and Africans brought ashore with Córtesdied out before his forces met the Tlaxcallan armies. This does not diminish the importance of African and Island Natives with Córtes, but the specifics given by Hassig reveal how little their roles were in the eventual conquest of the Aztec Empire.At the macro level, the two monographs differentiate significantly. As stated, each author had their prerogatives in publication, but the effectiveness of the finished products are verydisparate. Readers of differing expertise and knowledge in the subjects will walk away fromeach book with contrasting feelings and reactions. For example, Restall’s
Seven Myths
wasintended to depict the inaccuracies in several popular “mythistories” of the Spanish Conquest.As such, critical readers will likely double back as pretentious statements are made and over exaggerated to a point of inessential balderdash very unbecoming of the majority of hisotherwise well-written, well-researched and very welcome challenges to preconceived notions of the Spanish Conquest. On the other hand, Hassig took a more careful approach to the topic byworking as a narrative synthesis of the Spanish Conquest. Hassig’s more thorough retelling of events was also more useful for those not quite as well versed in Latin American history.Furthermore, Hassig wrote with a greater believability as a historian because of his admission
Andrew S. Terrell
- HIST 6393: Atlantic America to 1750 1 September 2010
3

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