Long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Inca controlled 2,500 miles of South America’s west coast and ruled over 12 million people. Meanwhile, in Central Mexico, over a quarter million people lived in Tenochtitlan on two islands constructed in a “sea of water lilies.” These were not the disorganized, nomadic tribes that I was introduced to when I was in grade school. The pre-columbian Americas featured highly coordinated, centralized empires: Engineers designed intricate road and canal systems; astronomers tracked celestial bodies; and state bureaucrats meticulously calculated and recorded the tribute obligations of local communities.
As Columbus Day approaches, we encourage teachers to explore the legacy of the conquest and colonization of this marvelous “new” world. PBS Conquistadors On-Line Learning Adventure is an interactive resource for middle and high school students that will tell a side of the story that is often woefully ignored.
The On-Line Learning Adventure—originally created as a companion to the Michael Wood four part documentary, “The Conquistadors”—explores the conquest of Central Mexico, Peru, the Amazonia, and North America. Students can browse background information on conquest and colonization by navigating an interactive map that links to essays on pre-conquest indigenous lifestyles, and environmental and human rights issues associated with colonization. Teaching units include:
- Cortes and the Aztecs: Different Views of the World
- Pizarro and the Incas: The What Ifs of History
- Orellana and the Amazon: Human and Environmental Issues
- Cabeza de Vaca: Human Rights and the Exploration of North America
Each unit features six or seven lesson plans, prompting students to read and write creation stories, count with quipus, evaluate the decisions of Cortes and Orellana, design Aztec codices, and much more. Many of the lesson plans actually incorporate contemporary environmental and indigenous issues. Students are asked, for instance, to debate the pros and cons of authorizing the Makah people of Washington state to practice traditional whale hunting.
While some of the internally linked resources included in the lesson plans are no longer functional, most of the necessary background information is available via included handouts or by exploring the interactive map.
I hope this resource is helpful.