How will these resources help you?

Most sources focus on Spanish accounts of the defeat of the Aztecs.  In recent years, scholars and historians have worked hard to rectify this imbalance in the historiography by offering fresh perspectives of what actually happened in Mexico. These resources enlighten students with compelling evidence that has the potential to challenge the standard view.  Teaching this topic can be challenging as it touches on the history of colonisation and empire – issues that need to be approached in a careful way to be fully understood.

A useful starting point

Conquistador: Hernán Cortés, King Montezuma, and the Last Stand of the Aztecs

by Buddy Levy, published by Bantam Books, (2009), 9780553384710

This book sets up one of the most important myths regarding the fall of the Aztecs: the rivalry between and the meeting of Hernán Cortés and Montezuma, the Aztec king. It reads like a thriller, which will encourage students to want to learn more about the topic. This is the story of two great men but, most importantly, it is the story of a lost kingdom. It is very well researched and is a great introduction to the topic.

An overview

Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest

by Matthew Restall, published by Oxford University Press, (2021), 9780197537299

This book offers a useful overview of the myths that need to be debunked when it comes to the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Easy to use, it combines Spanish sources with other sources that rectify most of our misconceptions of the Spanish colonisation of the Aztec Empire and beyond. A great way to use this book would be to ask groups of students to analyse one myth each, answering the questions: Why is this a myth? How convincing is the argument of the author/historian debunking the myth? These questions will generate discussions, allowing students to participate and share their own points of view.

A case study

The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico

by Miguel León-Portilla, published by Beacon Press, (2007), 9780807055007

This is a brilliant book that reveals the Aztec account of what happened in Mexico. The cited sources allow students and teachers to counterbalance the Spanish narrative via new perspectives. This is the perfect tool to help bring the past to life, as well as offering a great analysis of the primary evidence. A particular strength of this book is that it showcases the voices of native Aztec descendants. Oral history is often bypassed as it can be harder to verify the sources, but it is exciting to consider accounts from descendants across the centuries. 

Further materials

Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle, and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture by Caroline Dodds Pennock, published by Palgrave Macmillan, (2011), 9781349280971 Find this book
Cortés & the Fall of the Aztec Empire by Mark Cartwright, published by World History Encyclopedia, (2016) Read this article
Dr Estelle Paranque is Assistant Professor in Early Modern History at the New College of the Humanities, part of the Northeastern University Global Network. She has published extensively on Elizabeth I of England, Catherine de Medici, the French kings and queen consorts and Anglo-French diplomatic relations. She is the author of Elizabeth I of England Through Valois Eyes: Power, Diplomacy and Representations in the reign of the queen, 1558–1588 (2019) and Blood, Fire, and Gold: Elizabeth I of England and her French rival Catherine de Medici (2022).

Text © Estelle Paranque, 2021-2023