Topics for Further Study

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Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 426

Research the coming of the Spanish to the ‘‘New World.’’ How did Columbus’s voyage differ from Cortéz’s or Coronado’s? What difficulties did Cortéz face from his Spanish superiors while trekking through Mexico? Who was Cabeza de Vaca and what did he discover? For this research, you might want to read the original sources such as Columbus’s diaries, the letters of Cortéz to the King of Spain, or Bernal Diaz de Castillo’s True Story of the Conquest of New Spain.

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Although Americans like to think of the Founding Fathers as a unified group with identical interests, this is by no means true. As demonstrated in the Federalist papers, many of these Founding Fathers differed violently on what the government of the United States should look like. Nothing serves as a better example of this conflict than the personal animus between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Who were these men? What offices did they hold and what has been their impact on American government?

Critics of Williams’s book such as Henry Seidel Canby accused Williams of adopting the ideas of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Research the life and ideas of Rousseau, especially his notions of ‘‘natural man’’ and the ‘‘noble savage.’’ Do you think Williams’s theories about American history were influenced by Rousseau?

Although Williams’s book expressed revolutionary ideas in its time, today’s readers might find him still to be an example of ‘‘dead white male’’ history—a way of looking at history that focuses on the roles and accomplishments of ‘‘great men’’ and leaders. A competing school of history, social history, attempts to explain the world with reference to the facts of ordinary life and by rediscovering the voices of people (such as women and Indians, to take the case of American history) who have traditionally been ignored. Do you feel that Williams is just a chronicler of Great Men? Or do you feel that he is truly delving into untold histories of unknown people?

Williams’s focus is largely the history of the discovery of the American continent by Europeans and the formation of the United States. To accomplish this, he uses a wide variety of sources in a wide variety of ways. Think about how one might go about such a project for your home region—your town, your county, your state. Who are the important historical figures to include? What groups have been left out of the ‘‘official’’ history? What technological or economic developments were crucial to the history of your area?

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