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Should the European explorers from

the Age of Exploration still be

celebrated in modern times?

Overview: European discoveries, conquests, and settlements throughout the world

from 1400 to 1700 C.E. explain why the era is famously known as the Age of
Exploration. Many of the individuals who accomplished these feats of adventure and
exploration, including Columbus, Magellan, and Cortes, have names that are as
recognizable as any in the history of the world. Continents, countries, and cities are
named after many of these men whose actions changed the world permanently.
While their efforts and successes are still celebrated by modern society, the overall
impact of those voyages, contacts, and conflicts have created a divided view of
their cultural and historical legacy.
The Documents:

1: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, Bernal Diaz.

2: Excerpt of Letter to Charles V from Hernn Corts
3: World History: 7th Edition, William Duiker and Jackson Spielvogel
4: Christopher Columbuss Journal
5: Aztec Drawing of Human Sacrifice
6: The Great Disease Migration, Geoffrey Cowley
7: The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico,

Miguel Lon-Portilla

Document 8: Indians in Latin America, found in The World Book Encyclopedia

Document 9: The Oral History of Chief Hatuey
Document 10: A Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, Bartolom de Las

Teacher Document List

There are 10 documents in this DBQ. The documents are
grouped into two analytical categories. The first five documents
are intended to support the celebration of European Explorers,
and the last five are intended to oppose the celebration of
European Explorers. An uncategorized list of documents appears
at the beginning of the Student Materials. An important part of
student analysis is to create analytical categories that may or
may not be the same as below.

European Explorers Should be Celebrated

Document 1: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, Bernal

Document 2: Excerpt of Letter to Charles V from Hernn Corts.

Document 3: World History: 7th Edition, William Duiker and Jackson

Document 4: Christopher Columbuss Journal.

Document 5: Aztec Drawing of Human Sacrifice.

European Explorers Should Not be Celebrated

Document 6: The Great Disease Migration, Geoffrey Cowley.
Document 7: The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest
of Mexico, Miguel Lon-Portilla.

Document 8: Indians in Latin America, found in The World Book


Document 9: The Oral History of Chief Hatuey.

Document 10: A Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies,
Bartolom de Las Casas.

Essential Question: Should the European explorers,

conquistadors, and settlers from the Age of Exploration
still be celebrated in modern times?
Those that support the celebration of these explorers tend to point to the benefits of
cultural diffusion in terms of knowledge, skills, and technology, as well as ideas and
religion. The opposing viewpoint tends to argue that the benefits of exploration
were one-sided and came at a heavy cost; that the explorers/conquerors were
greedy and cruel, and that European settlement led to the destruction of native
culture and populations.
To answer the above question, you must read the following excerpts from important
primary sources and answer the corresponding questions. Once you have done this,
you will take a position on the issue and write a five paragraph essay using these
sources as well as examples from what you have learned in class.
Suggested Steps:
1. Read the Background Essay
2. Skim through the documents to get a sense of what they are about.
3. Read the documents slowly and mark the text. In the margin or on a
Document Analysis Sheet record the main idea of each document.
4. Organize the documents into analytical categories.
5. Within each category decide which documents support your ideas best.
6. Develop a summary answer to the question.
7. Write a thesis statement.
8. Create a well-organized five paragraph essay the supports your opinion.
The Documents

1: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, Bernal Diaz.

2: Excerpt of Letter to Charles V from Hernn Corts.
3: World History: 7th Edition, William Duiker and Jackson Spielvogel.
4: Christopher Columbuss Journal.
5: Aztec Drawing of Human Sacrifice.
6: The Great Disease Migration, Geoffrey Cowley.
7: The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico,

Miguel Lon-Portilla.

Document 8: Indians in Latin America, found in The World Book Encyclopedia.

Document 9: The Oral History of Chief Hatuey.
Document 10: A Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, Bartolom de Las

Background Essay
The Great Exchange
The global exchange of cultures, plants, animals, and, disease.
It was called the Age of Exploration. It was the era during which explorers threw open the doors
to new lands and not only made exciting discoveries, but also helped develop a larger global
economy. The people living on the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe, known as the Old
World, already had access to each other, but broadened their world when they introduced
themselves to the Americas, bringing with them their cultures, plants, animals, and,
unfortunately, disease. In turn, the New World sent its cultures, plants, animals, and disease back
to the Old World.
This was the Great Exchange.
Early explorers such as Christopher Columbus set sail for Asia, hoping to bring back exotic
spices, gold, and other goods to be sold at reasonable prices. Spices were valued because
Europeans used them as flavoring for food, preservatives, and medicine.
In fact, spices such as pepper and cloves made the long journey from Southeast Asia (modern
day Indonesia) to India, then Arabia, and finally to Italy. As the journey progressed, as one trader
followed the other, each increased the price of the spices as they moved westward until the price
was so high in Europe, only royalty could afford to buy them. The goal of the early explorers
was to cut out the middlemen in India, Arabia, and some places in Italy. By having a more direct
route, spices wouldnt be priced so high and more people could afford them.
When Christopher Columbus finally landed in America, he did not find the Asian pepper, cloves,
and other spices he was looking for, but, instead, found new and exciting products, encountered
new cultures, and saw strange and wonderful animals. In fact, Europeans thought this was a
terrific opportunity to expand their borders, produce valuable commodities, develop new
settlements for their crowded countries, and spread Christianity to the Native people in the
Americas. The Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English all began to mine silver and gold, grow
tobacco and sugar, and send thousands of people to build settlements in their territories. That was
all well and good, but the new settlers in America also wanted the familiar foods and animals
from their homeland. When they brought these plants and animals from their homes to the New
World, these new things changed the landscape, affected indigenous animals, and exposed Native
American populations to new diseases.
Mariners Museum

Teacher Document Notes

Document 1: The True History of the Conquest of
New Spain, Bernal Diaz (1492-1580).
Content Notes
This document
highlights the positive
aspects of European
influence on Native
The Natives learned
many valuable trades
from the Europeans
such as gold, silver,
and blacksmithing,
agriculture, and
These practices lead to
a more stable and
civilized society that
some historians view
as superior to the
nomadic and primitive
way of life that many
Native Americans

Document 1
Source: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain, Bernal Diaz (1492-1580).


Let us state how most of the Indian natives have successfully learned
all the Spanish tradesThere are gold and silversmithsand carvers also do
the most beautiful work with iron toolsMany sons of chieftains know how to
read and write, and to compose booksNow they breed cattle of all sorts,
and break in oxen, and plough the land, and sow wheat, and thresh harvest,
and sell it, and make bread, and they have planted their lands with all the
trees and fruits, such as apples and pears which they hold in higher regard
than their native plants, which we have brought from Spain.

Document Analysis
1. How does this document portray The Great Exchange?

2. According to this document what was the effect of European conquest on

native populations?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 2: Excerpt of Letter to Charles V from
Hernn Corts.
Content Notes
This document
exposes the dark side
of Aztec culture.
Some Natives
practiced rituals in
which they offered
human sacrifices to
their gods. Many times
these involved cutting
open and
disemboweling live
human beings.
These sacrifices are
gruesome and
inhumane to say the
least. When the
Europeans arrived
they introduced the
Natives to Christian
ideals. These ideals
encourage people to
care for one another
and to support their

fellow man.

Document 2
Source: Excerpt of Letter to Charles V from Hernn Corts, 1520.
They have a custom, horrible, and abominable, and deserving punishment
Whenever they ask anything of their gods, in order for their request to be fulfilled,
they take many boys, girls, men, and women, and in the presence of the statues of
their gods they cut open their chests. While they are still alive they take out their
hearts and entrails. Then they burn the organs, offering the smoke as a sacrifice to
their godsNo year passes in which they do not kill and sacrifice 50 souls at each
temple in their kingdom I did everything I could to steer them away from their
false gods and to draw them to our Lord God. Montezuma agreed that I probably
knew bestHe said that as long as I taught the Aztecs our religion they would follow
my directions. Therefore, I removed the statues of the false gods, cleaned the
temples, and taught the people our religion. The rest of the Aztecs did not accept
the new religion that I was giving them. They did make sure, though, that they did
not sacrifice any more humans while I was in the city

Document Analysis
1. What was the purpose of human sacrifice in the Aztec religion?

2. What did Cortes do to end the practice of human sacrifice?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 3: World History: 7th Edition, William
Duiker and Jackson Spielvogel.
Content Notes
This is an excerpt from
a textbook (It should
be noted that this is
not a primary source).
It contains a graphic
that shows how both
sides benefitted from
European expansion.
The Natives gained
access to products
that were previously
unknown to them. In
return they offered
new plants and
animals to the
Europeans. This
became a mutually
beneficial relationship.
This exchange of
goods helped to spark
the global economy
that we live in today.

Document 3
Source: World History: 7th Edition, William Duiker and Jackson Spielvogel.

The Columbian Exchange as found in World History. The European expansion into
the Americas began the exchange of plant and animal species that have ultimately
been of widespread benefit to peoples throughout the globe. The introduction of the
horse, cow, and various grains vastly increased food productivity in the Americas.
The cultivation of corn, manioc, and the potato, all products of the Americas, have
had the same effect in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The Columbian Exchange, as it is
sometimes called, was a process that ultimately brought benefits to all peoples.

Document Analysis
1. How did Europeans and Native Americans benefit from the Columbian

2. Explain the similarities and differences between The Great Exchange and the
Columbian Exchange.

Teacher Document Notes

Document 4: Christopher Columbuss Journal,
Content Notes
This passage was
taken from Christopher
Columbuss journal. In
it he speaks of the
Natives eagerness to
trade with the
According to Columbus
the Natives appeared
to value different
things than the
Natives were willing to
trade things like cotton
(which was highly
valued by Europeans
due to the booming
textile industry) for
whatever the
Europeans chose to
give them in return.

Document 4
Source: This document is from the journal of Columbus in his voyage of 1492.
Saturday, 13 October. "At daybreak great multitudes of men came to the
shore, all young and of fine shapes, very handsome; their hair not curled but
straight and coarse like horse-hair... They came to the ship in canoes, made of a
single trunk of a tree They came loaded with balls of cotton, parrots, javelins, and
other things too numerous to mention; these they exchanged for whatever we
chose to give them. I was very attentive to them The natives are an inoffensive
people, and so desirous to possess anything they saw with us, that they kept
swimming off to the ships with whatever they could find, and readily bartered for
any article we saw fit to give them in returnI saw in this manner sixteen balls of
cotton thread which weighed above twenty-five pounds

Document Analysis
1. What do the Native Americans hope to gain?

2. What does Columbus hope to gain?

3. Can this be a mutually beneficial relationship?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 5: Aztec Drawing of Human Sacrifice.
Content Notes
This is a drawing of a
sacrificial ritual at an
Aztec temple.
Notice the graphic
nature of the ritual.
(i.e. skulls,
disemboweled human
rolling down the stairs,
appearance of those in
attendance, etc.)
The Aztec people
sacrificed more than
20,000 captured
warriors when during
the dedication of the
temple of Tenochtitlan.

Document 5
Source: Aztec drawing of a sacrifice ritual.

Human sacrifice was a crucial part of Aztec religion. Aztecs believed that their war god
(Huitzilopochtli) demanded human sacrifices. When the Aztecs dedicated the great temple of
Tenochtitlan they sacrificed more than 20,000 captured warriors. During the ceremonies the
Aztec priests would cut out the heart of the sacrificial human and hold it up as an offering to
their gods.

Document Analysis
1. Why might the Aztec war god demand human sacrifices?

2. Would this be an acceptable practice in todays society?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 6A: The Great Disease Migration,
Geoffrey Cowley, 1991.
Content Notes
In this portion of text
from The Great
Disease Migration
Geoffrey Cowley
discusses the impact
of germs on the Native
American population.
Make a point that in a
matter of 49 years the
native population in
Mexico alone fell by 27
The impact of disease
on the Native
Americans was
catastrophic due to
their biological
isolation (they were
not exposed to many
western diseases prior
to Columbuss arrival).

This is a fantastic

opportunity to make
your lesson crosscurricular and
discuss biology. See
your science
department for
more info!!!

Document 6A
Source: The Great Disease Migration, Geoffrey Cowley. Newsweek, 1991.
Many experts now believe that the New World was home to 40 million to 50 million
people before Columbus arrived and that most of them died within decades. In Mexico alone,
the native population fell from roughly 30 million in 1519 to 3 million in 1568. There was
similar devastation throughout the Caribbean islands, Central America and Peru. The
eminent Yale historian David Brion Davis says this was the greatest genocide in the history
of man. Yet its increasingly clear that most of the carnage had nothing to do with European
barbarism. The worst of the suffering was caused not by swords or guns but by germs. By
the time Columbus set sail, the people of the Old World held the distinction of being
thoroughly diseased. By domesticating pigs, horses, sheep and cattle, they had infected
themselves with a wide array of germs. And through centuries of war, exploration, and citybuilding, they had kept those agents in constant circulation. Virtually any European who
crossed the Atlantic during the 16th century had battled such illness as smallpox and
measles during childhood and emerged fully immune. By contrast, the people of the
Americas had spent thousands of years in biological isolation. By the time Columbus had
arrived, groups like the Aztecs and Maya of Central America and Perus Incas had built cities
large enough to sustain major epidemics. Archeological evidence suggests they suffered
from syphilis, tuberculosis, a few intestinal parasites and some types of influenza. Yet they

remained untouched by the diseases that had raged for centuries in the Old World. When
the newcomers arrived carrying mumps, measles, whooping cough, smallpox, cholera,
gonorrhea and yellow fever, the Indians were immunologically defenseless.

Document Analysis
1. Why were the Native Americans particularly vulnerable to European

2. How did the Native American contraction of disease affect the Europeans?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 6B: Aztec and Inca Population Decline
After 1520.
Content Notes
This graph is a
continuation of
Document 6A.
Note the population is
in millions.
The population of
Texas as of 2014 is
29.96 million (to put
the document into

This is a fantastic
opportunity to make
your lesson crosscurricular and

Document 6B

Document Analysis
1. What is the graph telling you?

2. What was the total population decline of the Inca from 1520-1620?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 7: The Broken Spears: The Aztec
Account of the Conquest of Mexico, Miguel LeonPortilla. 1959.
Content Notes

Tenochtitlan was the

Aztec capital City. After
Cortez conquered
Tenochtitlan, Mexico
City was built on the
The Broken Spears is a
book that includes
translated accounts of
the Aztec from the
period of the Spanish
conquest of the Aztec
During the siege of
Tenochtitln in 1520,
the population was not
only low on food but
dying of smallpox.
25% of the empire is
said to have been lost

to the disease alone.

Document 7
Source: The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, Miguel
Lon-Portilla. 1959.
[After the Spaniards fled Tenochtitlan
after La Noche Triste, a great plague broke out
here in Tenochtitlan.] It began to spread during
[the month of October] and lasted for seventy
days, striking everywhere in the city and killing
a vast number of our people. Sores erupted on
our faces, our breasts, our bellies; we were
covered with agonizing sores from head to foot.
The illness was so dreadful that no one could
walk or move. The sick were so utterly helpless,
they could only lie on their beds like corpses, unable to move their limbs or even
their heads. They could not lie face down or roll from one side to the other. If they
did move their bodies, they screamed with pain. A great many died from this plague
and many others died of hunger. They could not get up to search for food and
everyone else was too sick to care for them, so they starved to death in their own
beds. Their looks were ravaged, for wherever a sore broke out, it gouged an ugly
pockmark in the skin. And a few of the survivors were left completely blind. The first
cases were reported outside of the city. By the time the danger was recognized, the
plague was so well established that nothing could halt it and spread to all of the
region around Lake Texcoco. Then its virulence diminished considerably, though
there were many isolated cases for many months after. The very first victims were
stricken during [early September] and the faces of our warriors were not clean and
free of sores until [the end of November].

Document Analysis
1. What were the effects of smallpox on the population of Tenochtitlan?

2. What was the effect of conquest and settlement on the total population of
native civilizations?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 8: Indians in Latin America, found in
The World Book Encyclopedia.
Content Notes
The first Spanish
settlers organized the
encomienda system by
which Spaniards were
given title to American
land and ownership of
the villages on that
land. In return for
promises to convert
the Indians to
Christianity, the
Spanish were allowed
to use the land and
labor any way they
saw fit.
The plan was that the
Encomienda system
would benefit both the

settlers and Indians.

Spanish would protect,
care for and
Christianize Indians.
Indians would work a
portion of their time
for the settlers.
Instead, settlers seized
Indians land and
enforced harsh
working conditions for
little to no pay.

Document 8
Source: Indians in Latin America, found in The World Book Encyclopedia.
During the early 1500s, Spain established the encomienda system in Latin
America. Under this system, the Spanish king granted colonists the right to collect
payments from Indians living in certain areas of land. The Spanish landowners
forced the Indians to farm the land or work in mines. Eventually, the colonists
claimed to own the land. Thousands of Indians died from overwork and harsh
treatment. Spanish threats to Indian ways of life were not limited to forcing them to
work for the colonists benefit. The Spaniards also weakened traditional tribal bonds
by resettling individual members of tribes far apart so that they would have little
contact with one another. In some cases, Indians were moved to specially designed
villages where they would be forced to give up their customs so they could be

taught Christianity and European customs and manners. During their rule in Latin
America, the Spaniards also created a class structure based on race. In general, the
Spaniards and their children were the highest class. Mestizos (people of Indian and
Spanish descent) and mulattoes (people of African and Spanish ancestry) formed
the next class.

Document Analysis
Explain how the Spanish benefitted from the encomienda system?

What was Spanish colonization like for the natives and other non-Europeans?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 9: The Oral History of Chief Hatuey, c.
Content Notes

The Taino people were

the indigenous people
of the Caribbean and
Chief Hatuey led the
Taino islanders to fight

back against the

Spanish invaders.

Hatuey was captured

and burned alive but,
to this day is
remembered as a
symbol of Cubas
resistance to foreign

Document 9
Source: The Oral History of Chief Hatuey, c. 1512.
As a witness of the atrocities of the Spanish conquistadors against the Taino
Indians, Chief Hatuey rounded up his people and fled to another island. He was
finally captured and sentenced to burn at the stake for having organized an uprising

against the Spanish. A Spanish monk who was present on the day of the execution
attempted to convert him to Christianity. The friar explained to the chief about
conversion, baptism, and the Catholic concept of heaven and hell. He offered to
baptize Chief Hatuey. The chief requested some time to think about the offer. After a
few moments he gave his legendary response. Hatuey first asked the monk, "After
being baptized, where does one go after death?" The monk responded, "To Heaven."
The chief then asked, "And where do the Spanish go after death?" The monk replied,
"If they are baptized, they will also go to heaven like all Christians. Then the chief
bravely responded "If the Spaniards go to heaven, then I certainly do not want to go
there. Do not baptize me, I would prefer to go to hell!"

Document Analysis
What was Chief Hatueys attitude toward the Spanish?

Why does Hatuey not want to go to Heaven with the Spanish?

Teacher Document Notes

Document 10: A Brief Account of the Devastation
of the Indies, Bartolome de Las Casas, 1542.
Content Notes

Bartolome de Las
Casas was a Spaniard
who became famous
(or infamous,
depending on your
point of view) for his
defense of the rights
of the native people of
the Americas.
He took a stand
against the horrors of
the conquest of the
colonization of the
New World and earned
himself the title
Defender of the
This account is about
the mistreatment of
and atrocities
committed against
the indigenous peoples
of the Americas in
colonial times and sent
to then Prince Philip II
of Spain.

Document 10
Source: A Brief Account of the Devastation of the Indies, Bartolom de Las Casas,
Of all the people of the world, the Indians are naturally the most patient and
peaceful. They hold no grudges and do not start fights. Because they are so weak
and willing to please others, though, they are unable to endure heavy labor and
soon die of some disease. They are also poor, possess very little, and have no desire
to own more. For this reason they are not greedy. They are very clean, with
intelligent minds. They are ready and willing to learn, so it is very likely they will
accept our Catholic religion and our virtuous customs. Yet into these sheep came
some Spaniards who immediately
behaved like wild wolves. The Spaniards
killed and terrorized the native peoples
in order to gain more gold and to make
themselves richer. With their horses and
metal weapons, the Spaniards began to
carry out massacres and strange
cruelties against Indians. For example,
they made bets as to who could split a
man in half or could cut off his head or
spill out his entrails with a single swing of
a sword or pike. They took infants by the
legs and pitched them headfirst against
rocks or by the arms and threw them into the river, roaring with laughter the whole
time. They made some gallows where they hanged victims with their feet almost
touching the ground then set burning wood just under their feet and burned them
alive. The few survivors, if there were any, would then be divided up by the
conquistadors to be slaves.

Document Analysis

How did de las Casas view the Native Americans?

Why does he use the phrase wild wolves to describe the Spanish?