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Conquest of the Americas

Explore the collision of three distinct peoples and cultures—Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans—in this eye-opening and engrossing course.
Conquest of the Americas is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 136.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from It gets MUCH better after 1st lecture! Be patient. I just wanted to give this a quick 5-star review since the course is DEFINITELY worth watching!!! Respectfully, I feel a bit sorry for the person who gave this 1 stars because he/she felt that the 1st lecture or so might have dragged a bit, and thus stopped watching the course after lecture 1 or 2. Actually, the course gets VERY interesting soon afterwards. And, many of of the 24 lectures are simply riveting (even if you know the general story already)! One quibble, which others already pointed out, is that sometimes the prof repeats some points--though I assume it was because he thought these were very important 'takeaways'. Also, he loves Brazil; we get it (after about 5 times). Finally, while I appreciated his OBJECTIVE point of view, e.g., not judging those who lived 500 years ago by today's standards, I think some additional examples of the brutality of the colonists would have been very helpful in painting a truer/more vivid picture. In particular, I presently recall only 1 quick example of the brutality of the PRIESTS. (In contrast, the prof repeatedly emphasized that the religious conversion was "incomplete".)
Date published: 2024-02-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The most informative lecture This lecture was fantastic. The professor made you feel his passion for the subject. I learned to much no taught in schools about the Americas. I would love to see more courses by this professor!!
Date published: 2023-10-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Objective and non-judgmental overview. This is a terrific overview of the conquest of Central and South America along with the Caribbean. I would have appreciated more coverage of the Indian wars in N. America, but I suppose there is only so much that can be covered in a survey such as this one. The course was perfect for someone like me who is not a scholar, but has a strong interest in the subject. The course could have been better had it included closed captioning for those of us with hearing difficulty.
Date published: 2023-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very comprehensive view! This course was exceptionally well organized and comprehensive. The argument was enlightening and persuasive. This is what a course should be —connected insights.
Date published: 2023-04-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well explained overview I finished this one in about two weeks. I have a BA in history from a reputable SUNY school and the professor in this series does a better job of explaining the material than most professors I had in college. Every lecture was interesting and paced perfectly. His voice is easy to listen to, which helps. Would be nice if there was a followup to this on Latin America in the 19th and 20th centuries….a tbroad topic but one that hasn’t really been touched by the great courses yet. I want to know more.
Date published: 2022-12-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A solid course that dispels much misunderstanding I had no clear idea what the lecturer was intending to cover or emphasize when I obtained and began to "attend" the 24 lectures that comprise this program of learning. It did differ dramatically in its approach and emphasis from what I first learned 62 years ago in elementary school in Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, I found this learning program enjoyable and fulfilling. My understanding of what is frequently referred to as "Latin America" has been both broadened and deepened, which is a good thing when considering so much of the turbulence that attaches itself so often to that part of the world.
Date published: 2022-08-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Goes Down Easy, but Makes You Think My husband and I very much enjoyed this course. The professor presents quite a lot of information and puts it in context in an engaging manner. After just about every "lesson" one or both of us mentioned something completely new we had learned or some new way of looking at events we already knew about. We Americans are now in a time when the early history of European and Native American (and African) relations comes up frequently. It is very helpful to have an historically accurate context in mind when thinking about current issues and historical claims. This the professor provides, and we found him to be even-handed and refreshingly non-political. Not an easy task. Besides that, Dr. Eakins has quite an epic tale to tell, and he does a good job with it. Years ago by chance I read an account of Cabeza de Vaca's shipwreck and journey, which blew my mind; I was happy that Dr. Eakins included that story and others like it to really bring the people and places of this historical period to life. This course goes down easy, but at the same time, makes you think. I particularly found interesting his explanation of the distinctions between Catholic Spain/Portugal and the English settlers in North America regarding their attitudes towards native people and African slaves.
Date published: 2022-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well balanced and fair discussion I have taken a number of the history courses offered by The Great Courses and this is by far one of the best. This is one of the older (2002) courses that I bought on sale but the history of the European colonization of the Americas has not changed. It is probably a good thing that the course was done in 2002 because, were it done today, there would likely be a lot of pressure to introduce a lot of PC nonsense that would distract from the facts. The discussion offered by Professor Eakin was well balanced in presenting the actions and attitudes of the Europeans and indigenous peoples alike. This is no doubt helped considerably by the Professor's experience in Latin America and focus of study on Brazil. Probably the best example of the way in which the course is taught is the treatment in Lecture 13 of The Atlantic Slave Trade. This lecture covered all the aspects of the slave trade from Africa to the Americas and is an area that could have been cluttered with political issues but was instead a fair discussion of a particularly sad part of the "conquest". If there is a weak spot in the course it is somewhat limited discussion of North America. There are separate lectures on the late arrivals (relative to Spain and Portugal) of the English and French I for one would have preferred to have maybe one or two additional lectures covering (a) the French explorations in North America which were followed by the English in Hudson Bay, (b) the Spanish explorations and attempted settlements in the the southeastern US (beyond DeSoto), and (c) the short-lived but very important impact of the Dutch attempts to colonize the New York-New Jersey areas. All in all a great course.
Date published: 2022-03-21
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How did the collision of three distinct peoples and cultures-Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans-give rise to a new American identity? With award-winning teacher Professor Marshall Eakin as your guide, you'll learn about the myriad ways this compelling story has radically transformed not only the American continent but the world.


Marshall C. Eakin

I see myself as a cultural intermediary, helping the diverse peoples of the Americas understand each other across geography and time.


Vanderbilt University

Dr. Marshall C. Eakin is Professor of History at Vanderbilt University, where he has taught since 1983. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Costa Rica and at the University of Kansas, where he also earned his master's degree. He earned his Ph.D. from UCLA.  Before taking his position at Vanderbilt, he taught at Loyola Marymount University.  He has won many teaching awards at Vanderbilt, including the Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the Madison Sarratt Prize for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, and a chair of teaching excellence awarded by the University's Board of Trust. In 1999, he was named the Carnegie Foundation/CASE Tennessee Professor of the Year.  Dr. Eakin has published many articles in scholarly journals and popular publications, and is the author of four books, including Brazil: The Once and Future Country and Tropical Capitalism: The Industrialization of Belo Horizonte, Brazil. In 2003, the government of Brazil inducted Dr. Eakin into the prestigious Order of Rio Branco for his contributions to Brazil's relationship with the United States.

By This Professor

Three Peoples Collide

01: Three Peoples Collide

Neither the Eurocentric term "discovery" nor the blandly neutral "encounters" does justice to the impact of Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans coming together in the New World. This process of conquest and mutual discovery can best be described as a "collision" whose causes and effects are outlined in this introductory lecture.

32 min
The Native Americans

02: The Native Americans

Most of the inhabitants of the Americas arrived in a series of migratory waves from Asia between 40,000 and 2,000 BCE Their civilizations, based on sophisticated irrigation and farming, and complex religions and social structures, would eventually rival those of Europe in almost all realms of life.

30 min
Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas

03: Mayas, Aztecs, and Incas

The Aztecs and Incas created empires built upon religions of conquest, and powered by the control of water, around Lake Texcoco in Mexico and high in the Andes Mountains, respectively. In the lowlands of Guatemala, the Maya developed a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, and built the archaeological monuments that astound us even today.

30 min
Europeans and Africans

04: Europeans and Africans

Europe and Africa had been connected for centuries by Old World trading networks centered around the Mediterranean. It was in the 15th century that Spain and Portugal, nation-states with expertise in shipping and navigation, shifted the trade out of the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic, along the west coast of Africa. This set the stage for expeditions to the New World.

30 min
European Overseas Expansion

05: European Overseas Expansion

In 1492, Europe was dwarfed in power by the civilizations of China, India, the Ottomans of the Middle East, and even the empires of Africa. This lecture explains how four factors—the modern nation-state, capitalism, Christianity, and new technologies—combined to catapult Portugal, with its window onto the Atlantic, to a position of global primacy.

30 min
Christopher Columbus—Path to Conquest

06: Christopher Columbus—Path to Conquest

Neither villain nor visionary, Christopher Columbus was an extremely learned and deeply devout man, who embarked on his "enterprise of the Indies" for "gold, glory, and gospel." He died unaware that he had initiated arguably the most important event in world history of the last 1,000 years.

30 min
Stepping Stones—The Conquest of the Caribbean

07: Stepping Stones—The Conquest of the Caribbean

Within a generation the Spanish swept across the Caribbean Sea and the surrounding regions, conquering and annihilating native peoples, and establishing the patterns of conquest that they would repeat across the Americas for nearly a century.

30 min
The Rise of Hernán Cortés

08: The Rise of Hernán Cortés

In the conquest of Mexico, two empires collide, and two mighty figures clash. Emerging from obscurity in Cuba, Hernán Cortés would lead a renegade Spanish expedition to the coast of Mexico. He brilliantly exploited divisions among the various Indian tribes, bringing enemies of the Aztec empire to his side, and eventually capturing Montezuma in his own palace.

30 min
The Fall of Montezuma

09: The Fall of Montezuma

After a massacre of the Aztecs by one of Cortés's officers, hundreds of thousands of enraged warriors surrounded the Spaniards, and the battle to flee from Tenochtitlán was about to begin. During the bloody struggle around Lake Texcoco, Montezuma would die, and the Spanish forces would narrowly escape. Cortés prepared to lay siege to the capital, and the ravages of disease began to weaken the Aztecs, sealing their empire's fate.

30 min
Conquistadors and Incas

10: Conquistadors and Incas

Unlike the sweeping epic tale in Mexico, the conquest of the Incas in Peru was a sordid tale of betrayal and civil war. Francisco Pizarro captured and executed the Inca ruler Atahualpa, and pitted an enemy Inca faction against Atahualpa's remaining forces. Jealousy over the spoils of conquest, however, would eventually claim more Spanish lives than the war against the Incas itself.

30 min
The Frontiers of Empire

11: The Frontiers of Empire

Conquests outside of the core regions of Mexico, Peru, and the Caribbean were far less fruitful. Ironically, the less developed people of the frontier proved far more difficult to conquer than the large empires. Pedro Alvarado was successful in his campaigns against the Maya in Guatemala, but expeditions into what is now the North American mainland yielded neither riches nor glory.

30 min
Portuguese Brazil—The King's Plantation

12: Portuguese Brazil—The King's Plantation

The Portuguese had stumbled upon Brazil in 1500 while sailing off the coast of West Africa, and it was initially an insignificant part of their vast trading empire. With the growth of sugar as a cash crop, however, Brazilian sugar plantations expanded on a vast scale. The depletion of Indian labor and the protection of Indian populations by Jesuit priests caused Brazil to turn to the widespread use of African slave labor.

30 min
The Atlantic Slave Trade

13: The Atlantic Slave Trade

The Atlantic slave trade was the largest forced migration in world history. The Middle Passage, a harrowing experience almost beyond comprehension, claimed the lives of almost 20 percent of its human cargo en route. Slave narratives of the time describe the slave experience in graphic, first-hand detail, and newly assembled documentation assists in understanding the true scope of this shameful chapter in human events.

30 min
Haciendas and Plantations

14: Haciendas and Plantations

The Spanish, Portuguese, and other European powers employed various labor systems to make their colonial possessions productive. This lecture explores the functioning of the encomienda, or land-grant system, the repartimiento system, which allocated draft-enforced Indian labor to landowners, as well as the plantation system as it functioned, quite distinctively, in the Caribbean and Brazil.

30 min
American Silver and Spanish Galleons

15: American Silver and Spanish Galleons

Spanish colonial wealth was built on the great estates, the rich silver mines in northern Mexico and upper Peru, and the fleet system that carried American silver back to Spain. When silver production in 1610 dramatically declined, the mercantilist Spanish economy upon which it was built fell like a house of cards.

30 min
The Sword and the Cross

16: The Sword and the Cross

With a religious zeal forged both by the long battle against the Moors of North Africa and by the intimate link between Church and State, Catholic missionaries from Spain and Portugal flooded into the Americas. Many produced some of the most extensive anthropological work on native cultures ever conducted.

30 min
New Peoples, New Religions

17: New Peoples, New Religions

Despite the combination of persuasion and force employed by the missionaries, religious conquest was largely a failed project. Today, the vast majority of people in the Americas practice forms of Christianity, but in syncretic forms that are deeply imbued with indigenous and African religious beliefs.

30 min
Late Arrivals—The English in North America

18: Late Arrivals—The English in North America

In search of the Northwest Passage, and intending to disrupt the Spanish-Portuguese monopoly in the Caribbean, the English began expeditions of exploration and settlement. In Virginia, they would turn to a plantation system similar to that of the Portuguese in Brazil. The Pilgrims settling in Massachusetts Bay would pursue an entirely different, "northern" kind of society.

30 min
Conquest by Dispossession

19: Conquest by Dispossession

The condemnation issued by Bartolomé de las Casas of Spanish treatment of the Indians was taken up by English and Dutch Protestants with vigor and gave rise to the notorious Black Legend. All European powers, however, were equally guilty of cruelty and ruthlessness towards native peoples, and each developed ideologies to justify the taking of lands from them. These ideological underpinnings are crucial to understanding the nature of the various mixed societies that ultimately emerged in the Americas.

30 min
Late Arrivals—The French in the Americas

20: Late Arrivals—The French in the Americas

The French attempted to establish footholds throughout the Americas, but their greatest success came along the St. Lawrence River, in New France, which would eventually become Quebec. The French Calvinist Jean de Léry also left perhaps that most empathic ethnographies of Indian life, based on his months living with the Tupinamba Indians, which includes an apology for cannibalism!

30 min
Pirates of the Caribbean

21: Pirates of the Caribbean

In the early 17th century, Dutch privateers struck at the heart of Spanish and Portuguese possessions in the Caribbean basin to undercut their trade monopolies. The Caribbean became a battleground, and by the end of the 17th century, the English and French had followed suit and established a permanent colonial presence.

30 min
Clash of Cultures—Victors and Vanquished

22: Clash of Cultures—Victors and Vanquished

The European military conquest of the Americas was largely successful. The parallel effort to impose European cultures and values on Native Americans, Africans, and their descendants has not been. Active resistance to assimilation and the inevitable effects of racial and cultural mixing have led to new, widely divergent hierarchies and continuums of race, class, language, and social mobility.

30 min
The Rise of “American” Identities

23: The Rise of “American” Identities

Latin American cities in the 17th century were urbane, sprawling centers of wealth and culture that arguably outshone their European counterparts. The way of life was very different in the countryside, out of the reach of the church and other cultural institutions, as it was in the less developed British North America and along the Brazilian coast, where more uniquely "American" societies evolved.

30 min
The Americas—Collisions and Convergence

24: The Americas—Collisions and Convergence

The mainstream of life in the Americas has been fed by three sources—one African, one European, and one Native-American—which are now inextricably fused. If economic development and social and political equity continue to spread throughout the Americas, the process of three peoples becoming one may yet reach fruition.

31 min