Bernal Diaz and the Conquest of New Spain

One of the surest ways to turn students off when it comes to having them learn history is to have them read a history textbook. Textbooks all generally suffer from the same fatal flaw. They are written by committee. Hardly anything is more likely to guarantee a student’s boredom. A dry listing of names and dates. A detached recounting of events. An unappealing telling of the story.

This is why in my history classes we don’t rely much on textbooks, and the ones we do use are not written by committee.

What I like to use—not only because it’s far more accurate, but also because it’s far more interesting—are original sources. So, since this year we are studying the Age of Exploration to the present, one of the works we are reading is Bernal Diaz’ The Conquest of New Spain. Diaz was one of the soldiers who fought under Hernando Cortes in the conquest of Mexico. He wrote a fascinating first hand, eye-witness account that is an absolute pleasure to read. Historians generally regard it as being the most accurate account we have of the conquest of Mexico.

By reading Diaz, my students and I are marching with Cortes in his campaigns against the Aztec Indians, experiencing his trials and triumphs with him, feeling Diaz' fear before battle and his exultation of victory afterward. We are coming to understand the mind of a Christian warrior in one of the epic battles of history in the triumph of Christianity over a particularly brutal form of paganism. And along the way many of the politically correct myths so commonly believed today about this episode of western history are being shattered.

In future posts, I’ll include some quotes and commentary from the book, which I hope you will enjoy. Even more, I hope you will buy the book and read it for yourself. You can purchase it here.


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