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  • Books in Brief
  • John F. Schwaller

Books in Brief

In the past few years, many presses have published translations of primary sources from Latin American history. Generally intended for classroom use, these works vary greatly in utility, but do provide options for bringing the events of the past to life. Four recent contributions focus on the colonial period, three from the sixteenth century and one from the seventeenth. Perhaps the text best known to students of colonial Latin America is Bernal Díaz del Castillo's The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. A recent addition to the long list of editions of this work has been published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2008, edited and with an introduction by David Carrasco. Like others, this is an abridgement of the original, designed to be more accessible to readers, but this new edition differs from the start by removing the word "True" from the title. In addition, the book contains eight essays to help the reader understand the various levels of the work and the material it contains. Carrasco is the author of five of these. Other authors are Rolena Adorno, Karen Viera Powers, and Sandra Messinger Cypess. Most refreshingly, in this edition Carrasco accepts that Díaz del Castillo was not an impartial observer, detachedly [End Page 561] recounting the events of his youth, but rather a passionate, sometimes witty, sometimes acerbic narrator who had his own agenda to support in recounting the events of the conquest. Carrasco also includes material from the period following the fall of Tenochtitlan. This provides the reader with a more nuanced view of the effects of the conquest. Rather than a definitive Spanish triumph, the reader sees that the Spanish had their own internal squabbles and that the job of pacification did not end with the fall of the Aztec capital.

In a different vein, Kathleen Ann Myers has published a work entitled Fernández de Oviedo's Chronicle of America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007). Unlike the other works here, this is not a translation and edition of a primary source, but rather an analysis of Oviedo's Historia general y natural de las Indias. It does, however, contain 36 pages of excerpts translated from the original, along with 81 pages of illustrations taken from various editions of the work. The core of the book is a series of essays in which Myers analyzes Oviedo's history from various perspectives, including Oviedo's role as eyewitness and reporter, actor and autobiographer, the presentation of women in the text, the multiple realities of the Cortés expedition, and the representation of natives in Oviedo's work. Myers sees Oviedo as pursuing two goals: to be a faithful servant of the crown and a credible witness to the events he narrates. These two principles color all that he does.

Roughly contemporaneous with Oviedo, Hans Staden wrote his account of captivity in Brazil in the mid-sixteenth century. Duke University Press has recently published an edition entitled Hans Staden's True History: An Account of Cannibal Captivity in Brazil (2008), edited and translated by Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Harbsmeier. Staden, who served in a Portuguese coastal fort in Brazil, was captured while in the interior and held for nine months by the Tupinambá. The book is a critical edition, which includes most of the original illustrations from the published sixteenth-century original. It also contains an introduction, which places the work in its context. The book has become a cornerstone for discussion concerning native practices of cannibalism, but at the same time it is one of the earliest accounts available describing Brazil. Thus Whitehead and Harbsmeier seek to ransom the book from its place in the debate over cannibalism and place it rather within the literature of European contact with the native peoples of the Americas. The introduction also traces the publication history of the book and how it has figured in debates across the years.

Bernado de Vargas Machuca was an experienced military man who in 1599 published what has been described as a manual for conquerors. A new edition of the book, The Indian Militia and Description...


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pp. 561-563
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