The history of the Aztecs according to George C. Vaillant in his book,
Aztecs of Mexico: Origin. Rise and Fall of the Aztec Nation
, is a “synopsis of the rise of Indian civilization and its doom” (2). The purpose of this curriculum unit entitled, “The Indians’ Discovery of Columbus”, is to present the conquest of Mexico and the subsequent downfall of the Aztecs, not from a European standpoint but rather from the perspective of the Aztecs themselves. By presenting the conquest in terms of the “tragic loss that resulted from the destruction of indigenous culture” (León-Portilla xv), it is hoped that we may increase our awareness of how essential it is to our own American society that we seek to preserve its multi-cultural make-up.
The suggestive title I have chosen is not an actual summation of my unit contents, as will be readily apparent: My main focus, in fact, is on Hernando Cortés and the conquest of Mexico as viewed by the Aztecs. Rather, “The Indians’ Discovery of Columbus” is indicative of an approach to the study of history, viewing major historical events such as those of the New World explorations and conquests from a different perspective, thus departing from the traditional Euro-centric view. It is by examining events from the perspective of the Indians that we gain real insight into the tremendous culture clash that occurred in the New World and that we can judge events more for their impact on those conquered.
I wish to begin my unit with Christopher Columbus, whose four voyages planted the first seeds of the Spanish Empire in America and inspired other explorers to venture into new frontiers. From this introductory overviews we will move to a more detailed study of Hernando Cortés whose conquest of Mexico and subjugation of the Aztec people inaugurated three centuries of Imperial Spanish domination in Central America. The story of the conquest will be presented from the ‘Indian’ point of view, allowing us to examine various events and their implications from a different perspective. We will take a look at the conflict that resulted between these two advanced and positive civilizations, focusing on one salient institution of Aztec society:
on which foundation the whole civilization could be said to have been built. We will examine the basic tenets and practices of the Aztec religion and compare that with the Spaniards’ perception of and response to them in order to more clearly demonstrate the real ‘culture clash’ that occurred. The ultimate impact of the Spanish conquest of Mexico will be examined with a view to gaining a greater understanding of how such a fascinating and advanced culture as the Aztec could be so decisively destroyed in the height of its apparent strength.
My curriculum unit will be designed as the feature element of a third-grade Social Studies program, will cover a 4 to 8 week time period, and will incorporate map, critical reading, creative writing and role-playing-skills. The main objectives of this unit are:
1. To compare 15th-century European notions of the world (its make-up and size) with what we know today, incorporating basic map-skills practice. In this context, then, we can explore the reasons why the conquistadors came to the New World.
2. To acquire a fuller and deeper understanding of the meaning of discovery (= conquest) by contrasting it with the corollary notion of ‘being discovered’ ( = being conquered). In other words, —to study the conquest of Mexico from the Aztecs’ point of view.
3. To study the nature of the confrontation between the Old World and the New World civilizations. In particular, to develop an appreciation of the Aztec culture, notably their religion.
4. To cultivate a rudimentary feeling for the complex cause effect relationship of historical events.
This curriculum unit will be divided into four sections:
Chapter I — A look at 15th-century Europe and the factors influencing men like Columbus to venture into the New World
Chapter II — A study of Hernando Cortés and his times, from which a representative portrait of the conquistador will emerge.
Chapter III — A narrative of the conquest of Mexico from the Aztecs’ point of view.
Chapter IV — An examination of the culture clash that ensued between the Spaniards and the Aztecs, focusing on the Aztec religion to demonstrate this contrast.