The sixteenth century saw a wave of written narratives such as Bartolomé de las Casas’s A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies in 1542 (frontispiece), all trying in fundamental ways to frame the unprecedented trans-Atlantic empire-building project of Spain. Beginning with Christopher Columbus, each generation of writers that followed constructed stylized narratives of conquest, war, salvation, and discovery that in the burgeoning print culture of Europe were intended to serve the expansive and territorial claims of imperial power, whether that of Christendom, the Spanish crown, or both. These narratives ushered in a new age of imperial histories that have continued to influence written histories of sovereignty, power, and nation-states down to our own time.
This week the HAG news team covers the latest staged performance of the long-running tragicomedy known as U.S. History. We watch as historical veracity gets bum-rushed by the flag waving drugstore cowboys of the Arizona legislature. These dude ranch dudes down in the Valley of the Sun are threatening a $5,000 fine for any public school teacher willing to teach the truth about the bloody and racist past of American history. “Out damned spot! Out, I say!” cry the history sanitizers. Sorry dudes, but you gotta know, that whether or not you can keep it out of the official dude ranch narrative, it seems that blood just does not want to wash away. And that’s the thing about sanitizing historical narratives, they’re always full of Freudian slips and just badly bandaged enough to keep the inconvenient truths alive and out of the censors’ reach. Once again, Josh draws back the big curtain to expose history’s hustlers, showing how the apologists of Spanish Empire invented a new genre of historical narrative that set the stage for today’s national histories. It all sounds pretty familiar as conquest gets rebranded as discovery, plunderers are recast as heroes, and from New Spain to New Orleans, the chorus of power never tires of singing how god is on their side.
Suggested Sources and Items of Interest
Amanda Marcotte, “Why the panic over “critical race theory” is the perfect right-wing troll” (June 15, 2021 Salon)
“A Day of Action: Educators Pledge to Teach the Truth” (June 10, 2021 Zinn Education Project)
“[T]he real issue at hand is that conservatives don’t want white kids to learn even the most basic truths about American history.”Amanda Marcotte