04 January 2014

Getting It Right!

Starting out reading Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 (2006) by J. H. Elliott, I am immediately impressed with the depth and breadth of the author's work. There is much worthy of praise, including a single word in a one sentence: "Cortés, an inspired leader, beached his boats and led his expedition resolutely into the interior of an unknown land to conquer it for his royal master" (emphasis added, 16). Five years ago, I wrote about the common misconception that I had learned decades earlier and held to be true until early 2008 that Cortés had burned his boats (see "the burning of boats"). He did not burn them.

Elliott's bibliography and notes are impressive. There are several citations in the first chapter to Hugh Thomas, The Conquest of Mexico (1993), the text in a 2005 American edition with a slightly different title that set me straight on this small, but not insignificant point. There are several explanations that have been offered by several historians for the long-held and frequently repeated error. Thomas's simple observation of the handwriting in the original primary text offers the simplest and best explanation. Two words are easily confused: quebrando (breaking) and quemando (burning).

Employing the best available scholarship as the basis of his narrative, Elliott gets this detail right.

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