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From Conquest to Colony: Spanish America, c.1400-1750 - HIS00055C

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Jesus Sanjurjo
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2019-20
    • See module specification for other years: 2018-19

Module summary

In 1519, a small band of Spanish soldiers led by Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico. Within two years, they had conquered the warlike and powerful Aztec Empire, decimating the native population and giving the Spanish King Charles V his first territory on the American mainland. Colonisation, evangelisation and plunder followed, as the Spaniards consolidated their power in the New World. Plants, animals and germs crossed the Atlantic for the first time, radically changing the lives of people in three continents.

The Spanish conquest of Mexico was one of the most dramatic feats in military history. How was it possible for an army of just 500 Spaniards to overthrow one of the largest and most sophisticated civilisations in the Americas? This module examines the causes and consequences of the conquests of both Mexico and Peru and studies the ways in which Iberian rule transformed indigenous societies in the New World. We begin by taking a look at the major Pre-Columbian civilisations, the bloodthirsty Aztecs and the sun-worshipping Incas. We then study the conquests themselves and their repercussions for both Spaniards and Indians, examining the key characteristics of colonial society. Students will get the chance to explore the conquest through a range of primary sources, from the letters of Cortés to the pictorial chronicles of Felipe Guaman Poma.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2019-20

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To give an intensive introduction to an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history;
  • To offer experience in the use of primary source materials;
  • To develop skills in analysing historiography; and
  • To develop core skills such as: bibliographical search techniques; source analysis; essay writing; giving presentations; and, undertaking independent research.

Module learning outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Acquire an insight into historical study of an unfamiliar period and/or approach to the study of history through intensive study of an aspect of the period and/or an approach to it;
  • Gain experience of analysing primary source materials;
  • Be able to evaluate an historical explanation;
  • Have practiced core skills identified in the Autumn Term Making Histories module, including historical analysis, note-taking, essay writing, presenting to groups, and leading discussions in seminars: and,
  • Have delivered advanced level historical work in essays, demonstrating a thorough understanding of the module topics.

Module content

Teaching Programme:
Teaching will be in weekly 2-hour seminars taught over eight weeks. Each week students will do reading and preparation in order to be able to contribute to discussion.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica: The Maya and the Aztecs
  2. Pre-Columbian South America: The Incas
  3. The Conquest of Mexico
  4. The Conquest of Peru
  5. In Search of El Dorado: Economy, Government and Society in Colonial Spanish America
  6. Spreading the Gospel: Evangelisation, Resistance, Syncretism
  7. The Columbian Exchange: Food, Animals, Disease
  8. Amazons, Giants and Cannibals: Conquest, Exploration and Myth in the Americas


Task Length % of module mark
2,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

During the autumn term students will be tasked with finding and researching their own primary source or sources in pairs or small groups, on which they will give a group presentation for formative assessment in one or more sessions during weeks 4-7.

Students will then submit 2,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 10.


Task Length % of module mark
2,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

The formative assessment is a group presentation and verbal feedback will be provided by the tutor in class followed by a written summary to each student within 10 working days. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

Indicative reading

You might like to look at the following:

Burkholder, Mark and Lyman Johnson, Colonial Latin America. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008 (6th Edition).

Díaz del Castillo, Bernal. The Conquest of New Spain. London: Penguin, 1963.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): changes to courses

The 2020/21 academic year will start in September. We aim to deliver as much face-to-face teaching as we can, supported by high quality online alternatives where we must.

Find details of the measures we're planning to protect our community.

Course changes for new students