Spanish expansion in America, 1492 to c. 1580

  • Horst Pietschmann


The historical assessment of the Spanish - and to a lesser extent Portuguese - colonization of America has undergone a radical change in the present century. Until the Second World War, or thereabouts, it was regarded, in a self-assured Europe and in the countries of the American continent which were themselves heavily oriented towards Europe, as a largely positive process conducted by farsighted and bold seafarers and conquistadores. The fact that brutalities had been committed against the indigenous population was conceded with varying degrees of ambiguity; but it was still felt that the process had ultimately brought about Europeanization of the continent. Only the comparatively small group of ethnologists who specialized in America called persistent attention to the destruction of flourishing native cultures and lamented the resulting loss to the cultural heritage of mankind. Under the influence of the decolonization movement of the post-war years, worldwide emphasis on human rights and the reflection now being fostered by many countries of Latin America on their pre-Hispanic Indian past in the wake of a new nationalism, together with the waning fascination of the European model, a rapid reappraisal of the process of Iberian expansion in America set in. The emphasis was now placed on the cruelties perpetrated by the conquerors, the incredible suffering of the ancient inhabitants of the continent with the loss of population numbers and of their cultural identity, followed by repression and exploitation by the new colonial masters.


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  1. 5.
    Cf. Bartolome de Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, libro II, capitiilo I. Edicion de Agustin Millares Carlo y estudio preliminar de Lewis Hanke, 2 Vols (Mexico-Buenos Aires, 1951), Vol. 2, pp. 202ff.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Nature America Inc. 2003

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  • Horst Pietschmann

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