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What Is History? Burying the White Gods by Townsend


The perception of historical events and the overall historical development of peoples and nations significantly depend on the discourse that prevails in the field of research and history as a subject. The approaches to analyzing particular causes and outcomes of events predetermine the overall idea about a historical period. In other words, when interpreting evidence, historians tend to apply their level of expertise in a way that forms the point of view of larger audiences.

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Consequently, the whole discourse and understanding of history might be biased and subjective due to the differences in scholars’ opinions. Thus, when understanding history, it is imperative to use multiple pieces of evidence, seek objective data, and validate the relevance of specific events in the larger context. A vivid illustration of the difference between a long-established perspective on a historical event and its alternative interpretation is Townsend’s research of encounters between Aztecs and Spaniards. The scholar challenged the common belief about Aztecs’ perception of the Spanish as gods claiming that evidence suggests the opposite, meaning that Aztecs were equally intelligent with Spaniards and saw them as humans.

Article Overview

The article by Townsend entitled “Burying the White Gods: New Perspectives on the Conquest of Mexico” provides a novel point of view on the history of the Spanish invasion in Mexico. The author opens her study with a direct and open statement that the previous research in the field conducted by Francisco Lopez De Gomara was based on bear assumptions unsupported by scientific and verifiable evidence (Townsend 659).

The author builds her article around the notion of technology use as the main evidential basis for proving the indigenous people’s intelligence is compatible with the intelligence level of invaders. Townsend actively uses and repeatedly refers to scientific evidence to prove her point and deliver a well-balanced, scholarly argument aimed at dispelling the myth about Aztecs’ perception of Spaniards as gods.

Assessment of the Article’s Persuasiveness

When validating the persuasiveness of a scholarly article, one must consider the quality and strength of the argument and the evidence that supports it. Townsend’s argument is complex and multifaceted, touches on an important aspect of the history of encounters between Aztecs and Spaniards, and provides new evidence, challenging previous assumptions claimed to be based on irrelevant, biased opinion. In particular, the article’s argument implies that there is no evidence proving that Aztecs considered Spaniards as gods. The argument is built on the evidence-based knowledge that Aztecs were not a less developed culture but were equally intelligent with the Spanish (Townsend 661). The reason why this argument is persuasive is the support that the author provides consistently throughout the paper.

Indeed, Townsend refers to the technology as the driving force of the encounter, where both parties engaged in the development of new technologies to initiate (on the one hand) and withstand (on the other) the conquest (661). Apart from referring to multiple historical works and scholarly publications, the author appeals to the common scene to reach her audience. Moreover, she interprets the events in a larger historical context, the information about which has significantly changed and was enriched throughout centuries after Francisco Lopez De Gomara made his argument. These aspects are considered to be significant strengths of Townsend’s argument. Townsend asks questions that seek reasons for events, dates when analyzed documents were published, and contexts in which they were interpreted.

Analysis of the Article’s Contribution to Understanding of the History of Encounters between the Aztecs and Spanish

Given the persuasiveness of the author’s argument, her analysis of Francisco Lopez de Gomara’s myth about Aztec’s perception of Spaniards as Gods seems valid and contributive to the full understanding of this historical period. In particular, the myth was produced by a Spanish historian who used testimonials of Spaniards when claiming the Spanish superiority over the indigenous people. According to Townsend, the sporadic use of sources to support the argument lacks academic strengths and is limited in the validation of the assumption. On the contrary, Townsend provides multifaceted references and pieces of evidence to oppose the myth.

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The Spanish who produced the myth was driven by the questions concerning the validation of their invasion into Mexico. The context in which the claims were constructed necessitated the explanation of Spaniards’ superiority over the indigenous people, according to which the need to invade was justified. However, within the new historical context with unbiased evidence available, Townsend provides a new objective perspective that aims to find true reasons for the conquest.


In summation, as the analysis of Townsend’s article showed, the interpretation of historical events depends on the opinion of scholars, the evidence that they use, and the context in which they perform or live. In particular, the newly introduced argument demonstrating that Aztecs’ culture was technologically driven and intellectually developed dispels the long-establish belief about their inferiority in relation to Spaniards. This argument shapes a qualitatively new perspective on the indigenous people of Mexico and allows for opening new paths in investigating conquest history under a more objective angle.

Works Cited

Townsend, Camilla. “Burying the White Gods: New Perspectives on the Conquest of Mexico.” The American Historical Review, vol. 108, no. 3, 2003, pp. 659-687.

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