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Fernández de Oviedo's Chronicle of America

A New History for a New World

By Kathleen Ann Myers

Publication Year: 2007

Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo (1478–1557) wrote the first comprehensive history of Spanish America, the Historia general y natural de las Indias, a sprawling, constantly revised work in which Oviedo attempted nothing less than a complete account of the Spanish discovery, conquest, and colonization of the Americas from 1492 to 1547, along with descriptions of the land’s flora, fauna, and indigenous peoples. His Historia, which grew to an astounding fifty volumes, includes numerous interviews with the Spanish and indigenous leaders who were literally making history, the first extensive field drawings of America rendered by a European, reports of exotic creatures, ethnographic descriptions of indigenous groups, and detailed reports about the conquest and colonization process. Fernández de Oviedo’s Chronicle of America explores how, in writing his Historia, Oviedo created a new historiographical model that reflected the vastness of the Americas and Spain’s enterprise there. Kathleen Myers uses a series of case studies—focusing on Oviedo’s self-portraits, drawings of American phenomena, approaches to myth, process of revision, and depictions of Native Americans—to analyze Oviedo’s narrative and rhetorical strategies and show how they relate to the politics, history, and discursive practices of his time. Accompanying the case studies are all of Oviedo’s extant field drawings and a wide selection of his text in English translation. The first study to examine the entire Historia and its evolving rhetorical and historical context, this book confirms Oviedo’s assertion that “the New World required a different kind of history” as it helps modern readers understand how the discovery of the Americas became a catalyst for European historiographical change.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-xiv

Note: In an attempt to publish as complete a record as possible of Oviedo’s illustrations in the History, I have drawn on a variety of sources. When possible, I first provide a photograph of images in the extant autograph manuscript (at the RAH and HEH). If the autograph image has been lost, I first use the contemporary Trujillos’ copy (at the BC and PR), which is ...

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pp. xv-xviii

Gonzalo Fern

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pp. 1-11

In 1493 a fourteen-year-old boy serving as a page for the Spanish prince Don Juan stood in awe as Christopher Columbus met with the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella. Columbus unveiled to the royal court in Barcelona his findings from his first voyage, displaying colorful parrots, enticing bits of gold, and native people. ...

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ONE. BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: The Life and Writings of Gonzalo Fern

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pp. 12-25

Gonzalo Fern

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pp. 26-40

Early in the General and Natural History of the Indies Oviedo proclaims that the route to the Indies and the Indies themselves could not be learned in the great texts of classical antiquity or in the hallowed halls of any of Europe’s best universities. Indeed, the new cosmography that was emerging contradicted the wisdom of the ancients. Information provided by New ...

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pp. 41-62

Many modern scholars have commented on Oviedo’s emphatic authorial presence: most describe the text as a heterogeneous, multivoiced narrative. But no scholar has thoroughly analyzed how Oviedo’s first-person interventions serve an evolving purpose, one that often matches the author’s complex administrative and ...

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FOUR. EYEWITNESS TO AMERICA’S WONDERS: Illustrating a Natural Historyof the Indies (bk. 7, chap. 14)

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pp. 63-81

When Oviedo stopped writing about events he had witnessed in Tierra Firme and devoted himself to natural history, to depicting American flora, fauna, and ethnographic items, he confronted a dilemma. How was he to convey in his natural history the particular novelty of the New World to an audience that had never seen ...

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FIVE. AMAZON WOMEN AND NEW WORLD REALITIES: Documenting an Expanding World (bk. 6, chap. 33)

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pp. 82-97

Caught between two eras—one that would recognize the contribution of empiricism to historiography and one that often viewed history as writing a variation of a primal text—Spanish chroniclers of the New World frequently revised traditional historiography, but they rarely broke completely from it. In his efforts to ...

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pp. 98-112

As we have seen in the last two chapters, the increased availability of information about the natural world and reports from new expeditions led Oviedo to use multiple strategies for revising his text. I noted, for example, the historian’s evolving theory of illustration and his use of Fray Gaspar de Carvajal’s account of Amazon ...

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pp. 113-135

No discussion of Oviedo’s General and Natural History of the Indies would be complete without addressing his controversial representation of Native Americans. Oviedo depicts Native American cultures with the same zeal and detail that inform his portraits of nature and the conquest, often including extensive ethnographic information. ...

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pp. 136-138

Whether Oviedo was writing about Native Americans, nature, or the conquest and colonization, his personal, political, and methodological concerns were never far from the surface of the narrative. The author’s attempts to maintain the favor of the Crown and establish the truth of his account serve as the underpinnings to his historiographic...

APPENDIX A. Chronology of Fernández de Oviedo’s Life and Works

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pp. 139-141

APPENDIX B. Map of Hispaniola and Tierra Firme, ca. 1540

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pp. 142-143

APPENDIX C. Translations of passages from Fernández de Oviedo’s Historia general y natural de las Indias

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pp. 143-179

APPENDIX D. Table. Historia general y natural Manuscript Locations and llustrations/Woodcuts

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pp. 180-187

APPENDIX E. Illustrations

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pp. 188-270


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pp. 271-300


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pp. 301-314


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pp. 315-324

E-ISBN-13: 9780292795020
E-ISBN-10: 0292795025
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292717039
Print-ISBN-10: 0292717032

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 83 b&w figures, 1 map
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • America -- Discovery and exploration -- Historiography.
  • America -- Early accounts to 1600.
  • Explorers -- America -- Biography.
  • America -- Discovery and exploration -- Biography.
  • Historians -- America -- Biography.
  • Historians -- Spain -- Biography.
  • Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés, Gonzalo, 1478-1557. Historia general y natural de las Indias.
  • Explorers -- Spain -- Biography.
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