SOCS 641
Biculturalism, Border-Crossing, and Non-Conformism in the Age of Conquest

Michael Armstrong-Roche         

Course Description

This course examines the diversity within Spanish (European, Christian) as well as Amerindian cultures at the time of the Conquest of America.  Many Old and New World texts of the 16th century can be read as complex explorations of national, religious, ethnic, and personal identities, which were subjected to acute reexamination in a period of unprecedented migration; biological, economic, and cultural exchange; war; social transformation; and literary innovation.  Identity assumes many forms here:  multiple and sometimes divided allegiances, border-crossing, passing and disguise, conformist and nonconformist assimilation.  We will focus on four prominent themes as they appear in 16th-century history, jurisprudence, ethnography, fiction, and poetry:  1) biological and cultural mestizaje (mixing) presented as an ideal, as a curse, and as an amoral reality (the cases of doña Marina/La Malinche, Gonzalo Guerrero, Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, the Inca Garcilaso); 2) the discourse of barbarism and civilization or what it means to be fully human (Vitoria’s launching of international law, the debate between Las Casas and Sepúlveda over the legitimacy of conquest, the extraordinary ethnographic achievement of Sahagún); 3) the struggle over the soul of the Church:  Is Christianity inherited or acquired, in particular is it compatible with racist blood-purity statutes aimed at converted Jews and Muslims? (the cases of Fray Luis de León, Saint Theresa, Ignatius of Loyola, and the moriscos); and 4) the unstable boundary between the masculine and the feminine:  Is anatomy destiny?  (the cases of Saint Theresa, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, and the novelist María de Zayas).  All roads lead to Cervantes:  we will read a few key episodes from Don Quijote and especially his epic last novel The Labors of Persiles and Sigismunda, which gathers together the political, ethnic, religious, and gender themes of the course.

Required Readings

1.  Available at Broad Street Bookstore: 

            a.  Bernal Diaz, The Conquest of New Spain, tr. J.M. Cohen (paperback ed., Penguin Classics, ISBN:  0140441239)

            b.  Miguel León-Portilla, The Broken Spears:  The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (paperback ed., Beacon Press, expanded and updated ed. of 1992; ISBN:  0807055018)

            c.  John Elliott, Imperial Spain:  1469-1716 (paperback ed., Penguin, 2nd rev. ed. 2002; ISBN:  0141007036)

            d.  Rolena Adorno and Patrick Charles Pautz, eds., The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca (paperback ed., University of Nebraska Press, 2003, ISBN:  080326416X)

            e.  Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, The Answer/La Respuesta, tr. Electa Arenal and Amanda Powell (paperback ed., The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1994; ISBN:  1558610774) 

2.  The remaining required readings for the term are available in a Course Reader (henceforth, CR) to be ordered at PIP Printing (179 Main St., Middletown, on the same block as Thai Gardens, near The Middlesex Fruitery and Manhattan Bagel; tel. 344-9001; hours:  M-F 8:30-5).  They prefer orders be made through their website: (payment can be made by credit or debit card).  They may need up to 24 hours from the time the order is placed to prepare readers. 

Please bear in mind that this Course Reader includes the out-of-print classic history by Edmundo O’Gorman, The Invention of America, which you should have read by the first meeting of the course.

Evaluations and Activities

Three short papers (3-5pp.), one longer final paper (10pp.), and one oral presentation (10 minutes, 5pp.) as a trial run for the final paper account for 70% of the final evaluation.  Attendance, preparation for class, and participation account for the remaining 30%, which reflects the protagonism of students in a course centered on discussion.  Class meetings will be given over to detailed discussion of the main readings, as well as group or team work.  Supplementary readings will be brought in regularly to introduce concepts or contextual information, encouraging a deeper--at once historically informed, textually grounded, and imaginative--engagement with the course’s texts and themes.  Participation includes preparing at least two substantial discussion questions for each class meeting based on the day’s reading.  The idea is to pick up the more interesting or controversial issues (as you see them) raised by the reading.  Therefore, a discussion question would never be a question merely about more or less straightforward facts (such as a date or a location) or a question that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no”; such questions call for interpretation, ideally multiple interpretations.  They are not necessarily easy to come up, so do not worry if you have to struggle over them a little; but they are an excellent way--as I think you will discover--to absorb a reading thoroughly.  Participation also includes outside preparation for an in-class debate scheduled for the fourth meeting of the term.  The class will divide into two debating teams and reenact (creatively) the famous series of debates that took place between Las Casas and Sepúlveda at Valladolid on the legitimacy of “just war” against (what we would call conquest of) the New World.  Oral presentations will take place over the course of the second half of the term.  A visit to Olin Special Collections, Wesleyan’s main repository of rare books and manuscripts, is also scheduled.  Viewings of one or two films (on Cabeza de Vaca and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz) will likely be programmed, depending on student interest and schedules. 

Course Schedule
September 11

A New World Order 

Edmundo O’Gorman, The Invention of America, Course Reader (CR) pp.  7-82B

September 18

Divided Loyalties 

     Bernal Díaz, The Conquest of New Spain: 

                  1.  On the first three expeditions, skim pp. 7-57;

                  2.  On Aguilar, Guerrero, and Doña Marina/La Malinche, read carefully pp. 57-87 

             Miguel León-Portilla, The Broken Spears:  The Aztec Account of the Conquest of  Mexico:

                        1.  Skim pp. xi-xxii

                        2.  Read carefully pp. xxv-xlvii

                        3.  Skim pp. 21-31, 37-49, 56-69, 145-172

                        4.  Read carefully pp. 175-182

September 25

J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain:  read carefully ch. 4 “The Imperial Destiny” (pp. 130-163)           

Cortés:  Elliott and Pagden Introductions to his Letters, Cortés’s description of Tenochtitlán; and the Requerimiento:  read carefully CR pp. 104-138

October 2

Civilization and Barbarism:  What does it mean to be human?         

Francisco de Vitoria, Introduction to Political Writings and On the American Indians:  read carefully CR pp. 141-149A and 152B-165A             

J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain:  skim ch. 5 “The Government and the Economy in the Reign of Charles V” (pp. 164-181)

The Debate at Valladolid (1550-1551):  Las Casas and Sepúlveda on the legitimacy of empire:  read carefully CR pp. 166-206B

October 9

Visit to Olin Library’s Special Collections (6-7:10) 

Fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s ethnography:  read carefully CR pp. 209B-254 

               First paper due (3-5pp.)

October 16 Fall Break
October 23

Crossing over to the Other Side 

Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca, pp. 1-125 (to “because it grieved them profoundly.”)

October 30

Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca, pp. 125-176 (the end) 

The Peruvian Herodotus:  Biculturalism and Bilingualism as Privilege
Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries, CR pp. 257B-279B

November 6

Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Royal Commentaries, CR pp. 280A-320B 

               Second paper due (3-5 pp.)

November 13

Nonconformist Spirituality and Race


Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises and background material, read carefully CR pp. 324-371 

Pauline or Erasmist Nonconformism:  Luis de León, selections from The Names of Christ and poems, read carefully CR pp. 374-414 

J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain:  skim ch. 6 “Race and Religion” (pp. 212-248)

November 20

Mysticism as Dissidence:  Saint Theresa, Autobiography and Saint John of the Cross poems (read carefully CR pp. 421-465) 

María de Zayas, “The Ravages of Vice,” The Disenchantments of Love, CR pp. 471-499B

November 27

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, The Answer/La Respuesta (to Sister Filotea) 

The Great Synthesis:  Cervantes as Conscience of an Age Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quijote:  DQ’s initiation, Marcela; CR pp. 502-517B 

J.H. Elliott, Imperial Spain, skim ch. 8 “Splendour and Misery” (pp. 285-320) 

            Third paper due (3-5pp.)

December 4

Miguel de Cervantes, The Labors of Persiles and Sigismunda:  The Barbaric Isle, CR pp. 521-541A (end of ch. 6), back story pp. 558A-559B, and appendix on the novel’s geography pp. 567B-569A      

Miguel de Cervantes, The Labors of Persiles and Sigismunda:  Rome, CR pp. 542B (from “When the other pilgrims in our band caught sight of Rome...”)-562B

December 16 Final paper due (10 pp.)