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May/june 2004 Historically Speaking the answer to the question has always been implied in its very choosing, phrasing, and promotion. The conquistadors' own story is a great one and the question theyposed irresistible , but together theyhave led historians in the wrong direction for centuries. At a time wheninvasionand its consequences are atthe forefront ofworld events, we would do well to think about what questions we select to begin the tale that will be told to future generations . Matthew Restall is associateprofessor ofhistory at the Pennsylvania State University. His books include Maya Conquistador (Beacon, 1998) and Seven Myths ofthe Spanish Conquest (Oxford, 2003). 1 Pedro de Alvarado, An Account ofthe Conquest of Guatemala in 1524 [1525] (The Cortés Society, 1924), 80. 2 In theJusticia section of the Archivo General de Indias, Seville; quoted in Michel Oudijk and MatthewRestall, "Mesoamerican Conquistadors in the Sixteenth Century," in Michel Oudijk and Laura Matthew, eds., Indian Conquistadors: Native Allies in the ConquestofMesoamerica (Unpublished manuscript). 3L. N. Tolstoy, WarandPeace, RosemaryEdmonds, trans., 2 vols. (Penguin, 1957), 2: 1433; quoted in GeoffreyParker, "RandomThoughts ofa Hedgehog ," in Historically Speaking (April 2003): 14. 4 Quotes from letters published in translation in Restali, Maya Conquistador (Beacon, 1998), 156-168. 5 Quote in Restall, Seven Mythsofthe Spanish Conquest (Oxford University Press, 2003), 152. 6 FranciscodeJerez, Verdaderarelacióndelaconquista del Perú [1534] (Historia 16, 1985): 1; Bernardo de Vargas Machuca, Miliciay Descripción de las Indias (Madrid, 1599), 25v-26v; both quoted in Restali, Seven Myths, 3, 163n9. The Necessary Historian, or Why Academics Should Engage with Popular Culture Michael C. C. Adams Conventional wisdom holds that a majority of Americans have little interestin the past. The United States appears to be the land ofthe present, straining into the future. Old buildings decay and are bulldozed away; the elderly remain figures of fun, especially on television; and young people see all that happened in recorded time before their births as irrelevant to their identities. ManyAmericans have onlythe haziest sense ofhistory, including their nation's past. Yet, ifwe turn the prism a little , a different picture emerges, suggesting a large popular interest in the past. Museum attendance is healthy; historicalreenactments draw thousands of however, by these symptoms of popular engagement with the past. They feel that much in the common milieu is distorted, inadequate, misleading, or ideologically driven, detracting from the serious appreciation ofhistory as a balanced study ofpivotal events and importantthemes in human develWhat about the modern relations between West and East? We hear so little,for example, about the UK's 20th-century role in the Middle East and in Iraq inparticular. spectators; works ofpopular historyoftensellwell ; the HistoryChannel, PBS,opment. They have a point. Reenactors, for andA& Efindgood audiencesforavarietyofexample, canreproduce the lookand surface documentaries and costume dramas; Holly-structure ofthe past, but a restaging of, say, wood still finds that colorful tales based onthe bloodiestdayinAmerican history—Antihistorical events can be box office successes.etam: September 17,1862—without its real Not all academic historians are cheered,terror, death, mutilations, dysentery, stench, screaming, and weeping, inevitably romanticizes . Some museums have the feel ofplay parks ratherthan centers oflearningand, particularly if run by state or local authorities, can offer inaccurate descriptions ofthe sites. The quality of historical programming on television varies widely and commercial film sacrifices historical authenticity for broad audience appeal, simplifying the complex patterns ofthe past. Yet I believe that the factors encouraging optimism outweigh the reasons for gloom. To beginwith, even though the popular coverage of history often seems to be a chaoticjumble ofunrelated episodes, a tidal flow of"stuff," much ofwhatis in the public arena actually deserves to be there. Take my field of military history. There are thousands ofbooks, movies, and computer games that deal with knights and their ladies, bowmen and pikemen from the Middle Ages. It is proper that we should still be interested in the chivalric Historically Speaking · May/June 2004 culture, for knighthood dominated the politics and society ofEurope for close to a thousand years. And while some Robin Hood films maybe silly, they draw our attention to a warrior who helped, along with the pikeman , to unseat the knight. No wonder this subversive continues to caper in our fantasies. Amuch later figure who continues to...


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