The Role of Smallpox in the Spanish Conquest of the Aztecs 500 Years Ago

Hernán Cortés owed his conquest of the Aztecs to his expedition’s unknown, unseen secret weapon: the smallpox virus. Disease epidemics can set the course of human history. Recent outbreaks in the U.S. have drawn attention to the dangers of measles. The Democratic Republic of Congo is fighting a deadly outbreak of Ebola that has killed hundreds. Epidemics are[…]

Proto-Spam: Spanish Prisoners and Confidence Games in the Late 19th Century

In this confidence trick, the criminal contacted the victim offering a large sum of money, or other comparable treasure, in return for a small advance of funds that the criminal could not provide because of some impediment. Dearest Readers, I beseech you, Please accept this humble letter from a poor stranger seeking your help. Although[…]

‘Peonage’: 19th-Century New Mexico and the History of Colonial Spain’s Debt Enslavement

A system inherited from colonial Spain kept Americans in servitude even after the Civil War. Imagine a time and place where a small debt—even just a few dollars—could translate into a lifetime of servitude not only for the debtor, but also for his or her children. For much of the 19th century, the American Southwest[…]

Mining the Languages of Empire in the Early Americas

The silver industry influenced life in the colonial Americas and the Atlantic world on social, political, and economic levels. “Oye hueón está tan rica la mina,” one operative said to his friend on a typical March day in the altiplano, nearly ten years ago. It was warm in the sunny spaces where they walked, and chilly[…]

Droughts and Agricultural Scarcity before Independence in the Viceroyalty of New Granada, 1800–1810

The crisis affected all kind of people: whites, mestizos, and indigenous people; herders, large cattle owners, and croppers of plantain. In May 1807, a group of farmers and ranchers from the lands around Santafe, the capital city of the Viceroyalty of New Granada (today Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia), wrote a complaint about meat[…]

Convivencia: Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Medieval Spain

Examining the inter-relationship of religion and culture in the time period of medieval Spain known as the convivencia. By Lindsey Marie Vaughan Abstract Few time periods in world history offer as unique a glimpse into cultural cohabitation as the one in medieval Spain following the Arabic invasion and preceding the Christian Reconquest ended in 1492.[…]