Faculty Seminar Advisor

Max Geier

Department

History

Type (DCMI Terms)

Text

Document Type

Paper

Publication Date

2009

Abstract

Christopher Columbus' discovery of the Americas in 1492 opened a whole new world to the Europeans. The discovered land held new resources, new territory, and new peoples. Conquistadors were enthralled by the lure of gold and territory. But the Spanish government and colonists faced the problem of the nature and status of the people that already inhabited these lands. Were they to be treated as equals, serfs, or slaves? Were they even really people? The answers to these questions were complex and unclear. The Spanish crown made many laws regarding how the natives and colonists should interact, however, much of this legislation was ignored by colonists and conquerors. Most of the colonists were more than happy to exploit the natives, but some religious orders opposed this exploitation. One of the most outspoken defenders of indigenous rights was the Dominican Order. An especially tenacious Dominican defender of natives' rights was Fr. Bartolome de Las Casas, who campaigned for native rights during the early and mid-sixteenth century. As this paper will show, Las Casas’ championship of indigenous rights was shaped by his European heritage.

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