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Spanish colonization

The Spanish conquest of the Americas in the late 1400s brought drastic changes. Columbus' discovery led to a rush for riches, with Spanish explorers seeking gold, glory, and a bit of God. The Aztec Empire fell to Cortes, and the Spanish implemented the Encomiendas System, a harsh form of labor. Native American resistance, such as the Pueblo Revolt, occurred, and a racial caste system developed.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] Imagine that one day you are standing in your backyard when all of a sudden you saw an alien ship land and the alien ship had incredible technology and you saw aliens walking out of the ship bearing strange animals, maybe scary looking weapons and speaking a very strange language. What would you do? Would you try to be kind to the aliens, hope that maybe you could befriend them? Would you fear them and perhaps immediately try to make war against them? Would you hope that perhaps War of the Worlds style that they would die of the common cold or would you fear that maybe they had some kind of common cold that you might die of? These are the choices that were faced by Native Americans when they encountered the Spanish at the end of the 1400s. Columbus arrived in the New World in 1492 and when he got back in 1493 the secret was out that there were great riches to be had in the New World, so much so that as early as 1494 Spain and Portugal were trying to decide how they would divide the riches of the Old World and the New between them, so in the years after Columbus' first voyage many Spanish conquistadors or conquerors began exploring throughout the Americas and it's not necessary for you to memorize any of these names but I want you to get a sense that in the 50 years or so after Columbus, European explorers began checking out everything in the Caribbean, North America and South America and their motivations, like Columbus' were the three Gs of colonization, gold, that is to get rich, glory, that is to bring glory to one's self for one's nation and a little bit of God, that is to bring Catholicism to native peoples living in the Americas. Now, as you can see from the many individuals here, Spanish colonization was a very complex process taking place in many different regions but in this video I wanna focus in on just a few aspects, the conquest of Mexico by Cortes, a society that came out of this blend of Spanish and Native American culture and a little bit about the resistance to colonization that we'll see in New Mexico with the Pueblo Revolt. Now, like Columbus, Spanish explorers originally were looking for a passage to Asia through the Americas but quickly learned that there was quite a lot of riches to be found in the Americas themselves and one place that came to the attention of the conquistadors was Tenochtitlan which was the capital of the Aztec Empire. Now, the Aztecs were not well loved in Mexico. They ruled over a vast territory with many smaller tribes they required to give them tribute and even human captives for sacrifice, so in 1519, Hernan Cortes, a Spanish conquistador landed with a group of about 600 men in Vera Cruz and with the help of some translators he worked his way across Mexico learning of the general dislike of the Aztec Empire so that when he finally came upon the city of Tenochtitlan he had about 20,000 Native Americans who were ready to make war on this city along with him. Now, it's hard to imagine what Tenochtitlan would have looked like to the Spanish. It's estimated that it had about 200,000 to 300,000 inhabitants which made it one of the larger cities in the world. There was nothing quite so large as this city in all of Europe. It sat in the middle of a lake with hanging gardens and an aqueduct and had incredible pyramids that were many stories tall and at first, Moctezuma the Second who was emperor of the Aztec Empire treated the approaching Spaniards with great kindness and generosity showering them with gifts. After all, the Spanish had things that Moctezuma had never seen before like horses and gigantic war dogs which they used to rip apart their enemies and cannons which even though they only had a few of them and they didn't work very well were very frightening when they were fired, much like I think a ray gun would be frightening to us now. Now, it didn't take very long for the relationship between the Spanish and the Aztecs to crumble and aided by their many native American allies and also by the spread of deadly disease like smallpox which decimated the Native American population, by 1521 Tenochtitlan had fallen, in fact, was in ruins. Moctezuma had died and the Spanish began building on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, Mexico City but much to the horror of the many Native American tribes that had allied with the Spanish, the Spanish would turn out to be much crueler imperial masters than the Aztecs had been and the smallpox that had ravaged the Aztecs, ravaged the rest of the Native American population as well as they lacked the immunity to European disease. Although much of the conquest of the Spanish Empire in the New World was done by conquistadors, adventurers, the Spanish Crown was eager to place some control over this new territory and one way that they did was through the Encomiendas System and the Encomiendas System was a labor system that in a way was kind of a combination of feudalism from Europe and slavery. So, the idea was that the Spanish Crown would grant land holders called encomenderos the right to the labor of Native Americans, perhaps a village or two and anything that those Native Americans produced through their slave labor, so gold if they mined it or agricultural products if they were working on a plantation and in theory what the Native Americans would get for this would be Christianization which to the Catholic Spanish Crown was an important goal to convert all of the world's people to Catholicism and also the protection of these Spanish feudal lords or encomenderos. In practice the Encomiendas System was really just another way of saying slavery and between the harsh treatment of the Spanish lords and disease, the native population of this region went from about 20 million when the Spanish arrived to only about two million by 1600, so that not very long after conquest, the Spanish began to bring enslaved Africans to labor in the New World as the Native American population had shrunk to a fraction of its former size. So, for the native people of Mexico the arrival of the Spanish was about the worst outcome of an alien invasion that you could imagine. Now, native people did resist the Spanish in many ways. Some ways were more subtle like outwardly adopting Christianity while maintaining their ancestral beliefs inwardly. The combination of Native American beliefs and Christianity together is called syncretism or the blending of two religious traditions but sometimes the Spanish pushed native people too far as in the case of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 when after a few generations of being forced to shed all of their religious beliefs in favor of Christianity or face severe punishment, the pueblo people rose up against the Spanish led by a man named Pope, so that sometimes the Pueblo Revolt is also called Pope's Rebellion and they killed Spanish priests, burned churches, replaced them with kivas, their own place of worship and drove the Spanish out so that in the next 50 years it took the Spanish to reestablish control of this region, the Spanish took a much more accommodating approach to pueblo society. The last aspect of Spanish colonial society that I wanna point out is the racial caste system that developed in the New World. Because the conquistadors were on dangerous adventures, very few Spanish women came with them in the New World and so, Spanish men had relationships with both native women and African women and Native Americans and Africans had relationships such that there was really an unprecedented mixing of peoples and cultures in the New World and to account for this incredibly diverse society the Spanish developed a caste system that very carefully ranked individuals by how much Spanish blood they had so that people with pure Spanish blood, criollos were at the top of the hierarchy, and people who had both Native American heritage and European heritage were called mestizo at the time whereas people with European heritage and African heritage were called mulatto at the time and so, as you moved up or down this scale you had more legal rights than the groups below you and this is what is known as a casta painting which very carefully categorized where every person fell on this hierarchy of race, so we see in the Spanish caste system the beginnings of assigning legal status to individuals based on their race but I think it's also important to note here that the casta system made a place for many different types of people in society and that will be important later when we contrast it with how English settlers treated Native Americans. The Spanish sought to Christianize and incorporate and enslave native people, whereas the English sought to completely eradicate them from the landscape.