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The Black Legend. Spain’s conquest of the New World in memory. “A distinctive feature of legends is that their veracity is in some way suspect. A legend is a story that someone else believes.” 1 1 Charles Gibson, The Black Legend (1969). What is Historical Memory?.

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the black legend

The Black Legend

Spain’s conquest of the New World in memory

“A distinctive feature of legends is that their veracity is in some way suspect. A legend is a story that someone else believes.”1

1 Charles Gibson, The Black Legend (1969)

what is historical memory
What is Historical Memory?
  • In part, it is how society chooses to remember certain events of the past.
what effects memory
What effects memory?
  • Self-interest is a powerful motivator in shaping the way humans remember the past.
how does the past change
How does the past “change?”
  • Indeed, the interpretation of the past can and does change dramatically over time. New societal norms, political objectives, varying cultural or religious perspectives are but a few factors that change the moral assessment given to the events of the past.
the black legend6
The Black Legend
  • This presentation will look at the contested memory of Spain as both a European power and as a colonial empire.
  • In short, we will examine the “Black Legend.”
what is the black legend
What is the Black Legend?
  • The importance of Las Casas’s Very Brief Relation. (Only work of Las Casas published within 300 years of his lifetime.)
other origins of the black legend
Other Origins of the “Black Legend”
  • Trends coinciding with Las Casas’s Very Brief Relation (1552)
    • The Inquisition (Spanish)
    • The Protestant Reformation & Religious Wars
      • French Wars (1562-1598)
      • Netherlands Revolt (1567-1593)
      • Sinking of Spanish Armada by England (1588)
      • Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648)
early critics
Early Critics
  • William of Orange (Hero of Protestant Netherlands) Apologia (1580)
    • Accusations of Spanish brutality, sloth, and depravity.
    • Mentions Spain’s atrocities in New World (cites Las Casas)
    • Fighting King Philip II of Spain for independence
    • Coincides with early Dutch translation of Brief Relation.
black legend in the new world las casas is translated into english
Black Legend in the New World: Las Casas is translated into English
  • The first English translation of Las Casas appears in Oliver Cromwell’s England in 1656: The Tears of the Indians: Being an Historical and True Account of the Cruel Massacres and Slaughter of Above Twenty Millions of Innocent People
oliver cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
  • Cromwell’s Speech at the Opening of Parliament (1656) repeats the account of Las Casas, recently translated into English.
anti spanish literature in the enlightenment era
Anti-Spanish Literature in the Enlightenment era.
  • Baron de Montesquieu, Persian Letters (1721)
  • Voltaire Alzire, 1736
  • Emphasizing, describing reasons for the decline of Spain. Both familiar with Las Casas.
modern critics
Modern Critics
  • Lew Wallace, The Fair God (1873)
  • Continuing in the Protestant tradition of beating up on Spain
  • A time of turmoil in Latin America: Looking for answers.
more modern critics of spain
More Modern Critics of Spain
  • Diego Rivera’s political murals depict a modern interpretation of the Black Legend.

On one hand, an idealized Indian past

  • In Rivera’s murals, the Conquistadors stand in as a metaphor for greed, capitalism, and European brutality. They are the words of Las Casas put into pictures.

I took this picture at the National Palace in Mexico City, Fall 2003

rivera s perspective
Rivera’s Perspective
  • A self-styled champion of the underclass and Indian causes, Rivera also identified with Marxism. His works often celebrated Socialist ideals – the very opposite philosophy, at least on paper, of European imperialism.

Diego Rivera and exiled Russian Revolutionary Leo Trotsky (before Trotsy’s ended up with an icepick in his back!)

contemporary black legend
Contemporary Black Legend
  • The elevation of Las Casas
    • His writings are on almost every course syllabus, often uncritically, in classes that deal with the Spanish conquest
    • Las Casas as a path-breaker. An early champion of human rights struggles. (A predecessor of Ghandi, King, Mandella.)
    • Las Casas’s stories are most useful in this regard, especially if they are true.
attacking the black legend
Attacking the Black Legend
  • Spanish apologists: Julián Juderias, The Black Legend (1914)
  • Coins the term “Black Legend” – in every sense of the word, “legend”
  • Construction of the “White Legend.”
    • Las Casas was a liar.
    • Spain spread greater good in the New World, far in excess of any bad.
    • Las Casas, if true, was an isolated incident
food for thought
Food for thought
  • How different was Spain’s conquest of the New World with that of the Protestant European powers? (Dutch, English)
  • Persistance of Indianismo
  • The Mestizo vs the absent English counterpart: The creation of Latino society.
contemporary conflicts o ate
Contemporary Conflicts: Oñate

In 1598, Don Juan de Oñate crossed the Rio Grande, becoming the first European (he was actually a mix of Spanish and Indian – a mestizo, or perhaps more accurately, a Latino) to enter what is today the American Southwest.

one hand heroic o ate
One Hand: Heroic Oñate
  • Oñate, by virtue of being the first Latino to cross the Rio Grande has become something of a hero in the US Latino community.
  • Growing politically powerful, these Latino communities want to validate their position through statues of Oñate.
  • He’s become something of a Latin George Washington.
there s a rub
There’s a rub…
  • Oñate could be one mean hombre when he wanted to…
    • After an uprising at the Acoma pueblo, he punished 24 of the men by chopping off their right foot, among other grisly things
    • Even King Phillip II of Spain ordered an investigation of his overly zealous behavior when punishing hostile Indians.
monumental controversy
Monumental Controversy
  • Descendants of the Acoma vs. Conquistador champions: The Oñate monument craze.
  • A barometer of political power and its influence on historical memory.
points to ponder
Points to ponder
  • What forces drive historical memory?
  • Is an objective truth possible?
  • In criticizing the “Black Legend” do we fabricate a “White Legend” in its place?
  • How much of an historical narrative is really about the present than the past?