Published Date

May 1, 2004


Indigenous, Migration, Immigration, & Diaspora, Military, Premodern, Religion, Research Methods, Visual Culture, Women, Gender, & Sexuality

AHA Topics

K–12 Education, Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education


Latin America/Caribbean

By Nancy Fitch
California State University, Fullerton

This photograph testifies to the catastrophic change that transformed ancient Mexico after 1521.  A once great civilization, the Mexica Empire was left in ruins when the Spaniards razed Tenochtitlan to replace it with a Spanish capital, Mexico City.  Historians still cannot agree on why this impressive civilization fell so quickly.  This project is an experiment in using hypermedia to construct a virtual learning environment in which students can use primary sources to come to their own conclusions about why the Mexicas fell, while learning the process by which historians produce the history they find in their textbooks.


This lesson plan consists of primary sources on the conquest of Mexico linked to simple overviews. They include 22 chapters from the major Aztec/Mexica source: Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España (the Florentine Codex); 40 excerpts from Hernan Cortés’s first, second, third, and fifth letters to Charles V; 26 excerpts from Bernal Díaz del Castillo’s Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (The True History of the Conquest of New Spain), and images from The General History and the Lienzo de Tlaxcala. Additional sources include an excerpt from Diego de Muñoz Camargo’s Historia de Tlaxcala on the massacre at Cholula from a Tlaxcalan perspective and an excerpt from Francisco López de Gómara’s Conquista de Méjico, the only Spanish account of the massacre at the festival of Tóxcatl.


Reflective Essay

For Teachers

For Students



Narrative Overviews

Compare and Contrast Exercises

Image Exercises

Primary Sources


Dr. Nancy Fitch, professor of history, California State University, Fullerton, created this project to use in her lower-division World Civilizations since 1500 survey course.

I am not a specialist in Mexican or Latin American history; my area of emphasis is French history, especially France in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. My research focuses on peasant and working class politics in Central France during these centuries. I have published several articles on these topics in various journals.

I have been interested in using hypermedia as a vehicle for creating virtual learning environments that challenge the way we traditionally think, write, and potentially learn since 1996. I am putting similar projects together on other topics for my classes partially funded by my university.

This project was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities that was organized by the American Historical Association. I have presented papers on my part of it at several professional meetings and have benefited greatly from comments and suggestions at these meetings and through our local cluster meetings.

One might ask why a French historian would put together a project on the conquest of Mexico. The answer is simple. I grew up in San Diego, on the Mexican border. I have spoken Spanish since I was a child and have always been fascinated with Mexico and Mexican history. I bought my first book in Spanish on the conquest in Tijuana when I was ten. I have since traveled extensively in Mexico and Central America and have been especially interested in the relationship between archeology and history.  I also began assigning primary sources on the conquest of Mexico in “Historical Thinking” classes as well as in my survey course since reacquainting myself with Mexican history by reading Tzvetan Todorov’s book The Conquest of America in the early 1980s. I was especially fascinated by his discussion of Malinche, Cortés’s translator, as she had not appeared in the volumes I read as a student many years ago. The idea that a Mexican woman could survive in the male-dominated world of the Mexicas and Spaniards interested me a great deal. Moreover, I have yet to find a better set of primary sources to push students into a deeper understanding of how to think historically than those related to the conquest of Mexico. It is also a good story that students can easily get into. Finally, world civilization textbooks are notoriously poor in covering both women and topics in Latin American history. Thus, my first hypermedia products have examined topics in Latin American history that simultaneously raise questions about race, gender, ethnicity, and social class. My other hypermedia project that is currently online explores issues of historical memory and historical amnesia in Brazilian history.