While closely adhering to published and readily available historical narratives, this essay follows a diachronic framework. I select one key historical moment in the emergence of definitions of an ‘American identity’ as it relates to present-day United States territory, the ‘discovery’ and early colonization by the Spanish in the 15th and 16th centuries. This study does not pretend to be all-encompassing of this time period, yet it also offers occasional references to later historical moments. The research is based on published, historical narrative accounts describing the first contact, conquest and colonization of New World populations by the Spanish crown, whose colonialist presence in continental America preceded that of the Anglo-Saxons, expanding from 1492 to 1898. This expansionist thrust left behind written accounts of its imperial legacy in the form of chronicles and travel literature, published in Europe (Renaissance Italy) almost immediately after the historical events occurred through the advent of the printing press in 1450, thus tantalizing aristocratic readers with notions that fluctuated from a barbaric to a noble, yet savage New World territory and inhabitants. Following a well-entrenched historical penchant towards xenophobia and ethnocentrism handed down from ancient Egypt and Greece, these historical narratives also established in the public, written record, the self-justification of the dehumanization of others through violent actions, including genocide, enslavement and the appropriation of land. In the process of usurpation, the aggressors formulated self-serving descriptions of the peoples they encountered, some of which still persist today (for example, the untrustworthy Indian, and the lazy Mexican). Remnants of early historiographies still resurface in U.S. (and continental) society today in the form of negative stereotypes. This study points to the early construction of such stereotypes, arguing that while articulated in the historical past, they ‘are not completed series or cycles of events’ (Hayden White, Fictions of Narrative: Essays on History, Literature and Theory, 1957-2007. Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010: 246), and thus recur.
|Keywords:||Historical, New World Peoples, Scholarly Writing and Stereotypes, Renaissance European Literary Imagination, Eurocentric, Ethnocentric, Identity, American Continental Identity, Cannibal, Savage, Barbarian|
Associate Professor, Department of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA