How are colonial forces shown and discussed in Columbus's first letter to Kind Ferdinand and Hernan Cortez's second letter to Charles V?

Both Columbus's letter and Hernán Cortés's letter demonstrate the Eurocentric ideologies and exploitative goals of colonial forces. For example, consider how Cortés says he “purified” Aztec temples. Here he shows how his colonial forces took pride in forcing the natives to adopt European practices. The way both men describe the benefits that these lands could bring to the Monarchy, such as Aztecs' architectural achievements, also shows how the colonial forces hoped to exploit native cultures.

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There are many ways the colonial forces are shown and discussed in these letters. I will explain some of the main ways to help get you started, but please note you may identify other ways as well.

Both Columbus's first letter to King Ferdinand and Hernán Cortés's letter to Charles...

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There are many ways the colonial forces are shown and discussed in these letters. I will explain some of the main ways to help get you started, but please note you may identify other ways as well.

Both Columbus's first letter to King Ferdinand and Hernán Cortés's letter to Charles V discuss colonial action with reverence. In Columbus's letter, he is recounting to the king and queen how he and his forces colonized the Native people. He describes that it was a new environment but a relatively easy process. He also justifies colonial action by emphasizing his commitment to the Spanish monarchy. Cortés mentions the benefits and potential ease of colonial action as well, but he is appealing to the Spanish monarchy for approval. To convince the Spanish monarch to colonize the Aztecs in Tenochtitlan, Mexico, Cortés explains the benefits that the Native Aztecs’ achievements could bring to the Spanish empire. Although both letters discuss colonization in different ways, both stress that the colonial forces can easily bring Christianity to these communities. Overall, these letters show how colonization involved pride in ideologies of European superiority, while at the same time aimed to exploit Native land and culture.

In Columbus's letter, he wrote about all the new people and places he saw. He described the Native people as shy and subservient, and stated that “they might become Christians and inclined to love our King and Queen.” Here we see how one of the colonizers's main goals was to make this land more like Europe. This reflects how ideologies of European superiority changed the way of life for people around the world. Cortés echoed this idea when he described the extravagance of the Aztec temples and wrote, “in the place of these I put images of Our Lady and the Saints.” Both Columbus and Cortés likely mentioned Christianity so directly because spreading the religion was tied to spreading the power of the Spanish empire. Note Cortés's word choice when he says he “purified the chapels.” Here we see that he really believes that he is doing God’s work. Such expression of colonial action shows how colonial forces often felt that forcing religious conversion was spreading good throughout the world.

These letters also show how this Eurocentric worldview is tied to nationalistic ideals. For instance, consider how Columbus described his reasons for taking over the land in his letter. He wrote, “I took possession of all of them for our most fortunate King by making public proclamations and unfurling his standard.” Here we see Columbus justifying colonial action by establishing himself as a committed servant to the Spanish monarchy. Of course, it makes sense that he would say this to the king, but it is likely he was proud of the service he thought he was providing the monarchy was well. This shows how political motivations shaped colonial action.

Cortés also justified colonial action by explaining how good it would be for the Spanish monarchy. In his letter, he used vivid imagery and lots of detail to describe the Aztec way of life. For example, he wrote that “Within the city his palaces were so wonderful that it is hardly possible to describe their beauty and extent; I can only say that in Spain there is nothing equal to them.” Here we see how colonial action was also rooted in hopes of cultural exploitation. Cortés hopes that if the king thinks Spain’s cultural achievements pale in comparison to those of the Aztecs, then Spain will jump at the chance to proclaim the Aztec accomplishments as their own. This is a strategic writing strategy by Cortés because he had previously attacked the Aztecs a few months earlier, against his superior’s orders. He is not only trying to justify his past actions in this letter, but asking for permission for colonial forces to do more.

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