HST6043: Burying the White Gods: Indigenous People in the Early Modern Colonial World

The Meeting of Cortés and Montezuma

15 credits (Semester 2018-19: Spring | Semester 2019-20: Autumn)

Module Leader: Dr Caroline Pennock


Module Summary

Since the rise of postcolonialism, scholars have fought to reconstruct the complexity and significance of indigenous communities and to remove them from an imperial framework which casts them as passive victims of historical events. In the early American world, this greater sensitivity to indigenous agendas and actions has led increasingly to meetings between indigenous Americans and Europeans being explained in terms of encounter, negotiation and accommodation, rather than simple conquest. Focusing on Central and South America, - but also drawing on other imperial contexts, this module seeks to illuminate the places and perspectives of indigenous people in colonial history and historiography.

Module aims

This module aims to examine the place of indigenous peoples in both colonial history and historiography. You will not only study the diverse roles and responses of indigenous people in imperial contexts but also examine the historiographical shifts and contemporary controversies which have so significantly affected the vision of indigenous history in recent years. Taking Spanish America as a model, this module seeks to illuminate the wider theoretical and methodological issues shaping indigenous histories in imperial contexts.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, you will be able to demonstrate:

  1. A broad understanding of the historiographical, methodological and theoretical issues associated with the study of indigenous history in colonial contexts;
  2. An awareness of the key transitions and developments in indigenous history and historiography, particularly of the Americas;
  3. An ability to identify and engage with the political issues and contemporary controversies shaping the study of indigenous history;
  4. An understanding of the diverse roles of indigenous people in the colonial world;
  5. A capacity for independent and critical historical thinking, expressed both orally and in writing.


Learning hours
Seminars Tutorials Independent Learning
10 1 139

The module will be taught in five, two-hour classes, each focusing on a key theme.

Through structured reading, presentation and debate, you will engage with key texts from the burgeoning primary and secondary literature in this field, ranging from postcolonial theory to indigenous pictographic records. You will be encouraged to relate the American case study to broader themes of colonial, indigenous and subaltern history. You will, in addition, have individual tutorial contact with the module leader in order to discuss your written work for this module.


Assessment methods
Assessment % of final mark Length
Coursework 100% 3000 words

You will prepare a paper (of not more than 3000 words) exploring one of the key themes of the module in a colonial context of your choice. You will have individual tutorial contact with the module tutor in order to discuss your written work for this module and you are encouraged to approach the tutor for guidance in choosing and shaping your topic.


Selected reading

The best reading to prepare for the module depends on your own interests and the approach you are intending to take to the material. The readings below offer a few starting points to key themes, but you should feel free to contact the module leader for more tailored guidance.

  • Camilla Townsend, Malintzin’s Choices: an Indian woman in the conquest of Mexico (Albuquerque, 2006)
  • Stephanie Wood, Transcending conquest: Nahua views of Spanish colonial Mexico (Norman, 2003)
  • Elizabeth H. Boone and Tom Cummins, Native Traditions in the Postconquest World (Washington, 1998) [Available online]
  • American Indian Quarterly’s Special Issue on ‘Writing about American Indians’, American Indian Quarterly 20.1 (1996)
  • Devon A. Mihesuah (ed.), Natives and Academics: Researching and Writing about American Indian History (Lincoln, 1998)



*The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it's up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research; funding changes; professional accreditation requirements; student or employer feedback; outcomes of reviews; and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.