The start of the school year always means the start of the grand narrative of American history. It dawned on me some years ago that, over the course of roughly 180 days, I undertake an annual, oral retelling of the story of the United States. One day, I plan to record my lectures, taking the best bits, and compiling them into a lengthy podcast series. After that, I’ll never have to teach again!
Regardless, the story always starts the same: a brief overview of the pre-Columbian Americans (what we used to call “Indians,” and more clumsily “Native Americans”), followed up with Spanish exploration from Christopher Columbus through Hernan Cortez and on.
A major part of those early lessons is the encounter of the bloodthirsty Aztecs and the gold-mad Spaniards. Students love the story of the advanced Aztecs, sacrificing humans to ensure the sunrise, and the arrival of the fiery-haired Cortez and his ragtag band of conquistadors and buccaneers.