Five hundred years ago—in February 1519—Hernán Cortés set out from Cuba with an expeditionary force heading for a confrontation with the Mexica, rulers of the Aztec Empire. Two years later, with the sacking of the capital, Tenochtitlan, the Spanish conquest was complete. Over the course of the following century filled with radical upheaval, demographic collapse, plague, mass migration, economic transformation, and cultural dislocation. Much of the history and culture of the Aztecs was lost, but what remained was pieced together by indigenous descendants who helped reconstruct an epic history of the Aztec civilization. Fellow Peter Villella, associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, is currently examining the basis for one of the modern world’s great national stories.
In this podcast, he explains how those postconquest historians creatively combined disparate elements to forge a powerful historical account of indigenous accomplishment that has become a central component of Mexican identity.