In “Paradigms of Conquest: History, Historiography, and Politics,” Stern (1992) focuses on discussing the conquest of the Latin American territories starting since 1492 from the perspectives of politics, history, and historiography. Stern (1992) claims that the year of 1492 became associated with “a powerful symbolism” related to colonization in Latin America: “The arrival of Columbus in America symbolizes a historical reconfiguration of world magnitude” (p. 1). The purpose of Stern’s work is to analyze the changes in the Latin American history with reference to three important utopias and with a focus on history and historiography in this context.
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According to the author, there are three critical utopias that are significant to explain the events in Latin America since Columbus’s arrival to these lands. They are “the conquistador utopias … of wealth, social precedence, and Christian conversion” (Stern, 1992, p. 7). The first utopia of wealth explains Spanish conquerors’ interest in gold and silver as one of their main motives to settle in these territories. Thus, “The Indian asked what it is that Spaniards ate. The answer: gold and silver” (Stern, 1992, p. 8). The second utopia is related to social precedence that means conquistadors’ pursuing for the escape from their old society, the rise of their authority in a new society, and the acquisition of much honor. The third utopia of religion is associated with the Christian conversion of Indians in order to promote the Christian salvation for them in the Latin American lands.
It is discussed in the article that these three utopias were closely connected as they determined the goals for the conquistadors’ actions in Latin America and regulated their interaction with the Indigenous people. As a result, according to Stern (1992), in the context of history, all the actors involved in the events did not share the same meaning of conquest, but they focused on different utopias and paradigms. A political struggle for the domination in these lands, the difficulties in the coexistence between conquerors and the Indigenous people and in developing a hierarchy were observed. Thus, it is noted by Stern (1992) that “Each utopia ensnared conquistadors in political intrigue and ambition, each brought out supremely political passions and sensibilities” (p. 9). Therefore, a political struggle was typical of the development of these three utopias.
In the second part of the article, the author refers to the analysis of the events associated with the conquest from the perspective of historiography. Stern (1992) notes that each view in the historiography of conquest usually develops with reference to certain political events and sympathies, in the context of which this theme can be discussed. As a result, the conquest is analyzed in historiography from a variety of perspectives, including the focus on cultural issues (Stern, 1992). There are also the focus on the conquest as the drama and trauma for the Indigenous people and the invasion for the redistribution of power.
In his work, Stern examines the problem of the conquest from the perspectives of three utopias. The author discusses the utopia of wealth, the utopia of social precedence, and the utopia of Christian conversion in detail. These utopias are helpful to explain the relationships between the Indigenous people and conquistadors. Furthermore, Stern also focuses on explaining how the situation of the conquest could be viewed from the perspectives of history, politics, and historiography.
Stern, S. J. (1992). Paradigms of conquest: History, historiography, and politics. Journal of Latin American Studies, 24, 1-34.