The following paper analysis’s two online historical clips that focus on the Spanish conquest of South America (1519-1521). The aim is to identify the differences in approach to these two clips before assessing the merits and detriments of historical movies to the discipline of history as a whole with a particular emphasis on the historical sources that are (or not) used to support the clips.
The first clip is around five minutes in length and addresses the question of how so few Spanish were able to conquer so many in South America. As the clip explains, the reasons why the Spanish were able to conquer so many was due to the technological superiority of the Spanish, the introduction of foreign disease by the Spanish and the fact that South America at that time was not a unified nation. Rather, South America was a divided country with many smaller tribes and factions who were prepared to align themselves with the Spanish rather than other indigenous people in South America at the time. Thus the conclusion to the clip focuses on the fact that so few didn’t conquer so many, the many were not united or present. Prior to turning to the second clip it is important to note the palpable lack of historical sources that support the clip in total. For the most part the historical sources are either cartoon pictures of Spaniards or drawings illustrating the authors point.
The second historical clip similarly to the first, addresses the theme of the Spanish conquest. In contrast to the first clip, the second clip is more specific in focusing on Hernán Cortés rather than the more generalised approach of the first clip. Additionally, the second clip provides a completely different set of reasons why the Spanish were able to conquer South America. In contrast to the first clip, the second clip addresses a number of myths behind the conquest of the Aztecs.
Such as the Aztec’s mistaking the Spanish for God’s and thus were not able to provide a unified defence against the Spanish forces, or the fact that South America was a previous utopia before the Spanish conquest and thus unable to defend themselves. In terms of historical sources, the second clip is similar to the first insofar as it relies on picture images to support the narrator’s points, but does include some historical sources. One example is the 18th Century copy of a letter from Hernán Cortés to the Spanish King which (the viewer is told) conveys how the conquest of South America was dependant on the indigenous population. The problem with this historical source in terms of the video is that it is impossible to see or verify this source when it is presented in the video due to the poor quality of the image.
In conclusion, the two clips that have been the focus of this paper clearly approach the topic of conquest in two differing ways. Whereas the first clip provides a generalised perspective on the reasons why the Spanish were able to conquer the Aztecs, the Second clip provides a greater level of detail but in terms of content was manifestly different to the first. This highlights part of the problem with historical videos insofar as there is a lack of historical sources (in both clips), and at the same time both provide differing reasons when it comes to the Spanish conquest. The different approaches of the two clips to the same historical problem (the theme of ‘conquest’ in the Spanish conquest) coupled with the lack of any solid historical references demonstrates why videos such as these can be seen as unreliable when it comes to the academic study of history. If a historical book had such a lack of sources it would be ridiculed from the offset.