2New World Silver Mining The Spanish colonisation of the Americas began with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean in On his return to Europe in 1493, Columbus reported his discoveries to Pope Alexander VI, who was Spanish by birth. The Pope then issued a bull (decree) dividing New World lands between Spain and Portugal by creating a north/south line of demarcation 100 leagues west of the Cape Verde islands. Non-Christian lands to the west of the line were to belong to Spain and to the east to Portugal. The Portuguese were not entirely happy with this demarcation and it was amended the next year by the Treaty of Tordesillas, which allowed the Portuguese to gain Brazil. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when Spain created a global empire, are often known as Spain’s ‘Golden Age’. Spanish conquistadors overcame the Aztec and Inca empires of central and south America, expanding the Spanish empire from the Caribbean to include much of South America, Central America, Mexico and what are now the south western states of the USA. While claiming to be motivated by the desire to spread Christianity, the Spanish found that the silver and gold mines of the Americas provided another motive for expansion. Spanish conquest and exploration was largely financed from these silver and gold mines and Spain became rich and powerful.
3A) Read this extract carefully and try to answer the questions which follow using only the internal evidence of the sourceSource 1The famous mountain of Potosí is located in the province of Los Charcas, in the kingdom of Peru; it is twenty-one and two thirds degrees distant from the southern or Antarctic Pole, so that it lies within the Tropics near the edge of the Torrid Zone. And yet it is extremely cold, more than Old Castile and more than Flanders, although it ought to be warm or hot considering the distance from the pole at which it lies. What makes it cold is that it is so high and steep and all bathed in very cold and intemperate winds…Its surroundings are dry, cold, and very bleak and completely barren, for it neither engenders nor produces fruit of grain or grass and thus is by nature uninhabitable owing to the unfavourable weather and the great barrenness of the earth.But the power of silver, desire for which draws all other things to itself, has populated that mountain with the largest number of inhabitants in all those realms; and silver has made it so rich in every sort of foodstuff and luxury that nothing can be desired that is not found there in abundance. And, although everything has to be brought in by wagon, its marketplaces are full of fruit, preserves, luxuries, marvellous wines, silks, and adornments, as much as in any other place. The colour of this mountain is a sort of dark red; it is very beautiful to look upon, resembling a well-shaped tent in the form of a sugarloaf.
4Try to work out an answer, however tentative, to each of the following: What sort of document or book did this come from?What sort of person might have written it?Who and what might it have been written for?What does the source tell us about the connections of the people of the mountain with other areas? Does it seem isolated from other civilisations to you?Given the inhospitable surroundings, why do you think Spain (it was a Spanish imperial possession) might have been interested in controlling this area?
5Does this help?The extract comes from a book written by José de Acosta, Natural and Moral History of the Indies, which was originally published in 1590.He was a Jesuit priest who had been a lecturer in theology in Spain before being sent to Lima, in Peru, in 1572, where he again lectured in theology.He travelled extensively in Peru before being recalled to Spain in As well as Natural and Moral History of the Indies, Acosta wrote several theological works.He provided the first detailed description of the geography, culture and history of Spanish America, but as well as providing descriptions he also sought for explanations of what he saw.He was the first to suggest a land bridge from Europe to Alaska and he recorded his observations of earthquakes, volcanoes and other natural phenomena. He also produced a trilingual catechism.
6Does this help?Natural and Moral History went through four editions in less than twenty years in Spain and was translated into French, Italian, Latin, Dutch and German, achieving widespread dissemination throughout Europe. The people of the mountain described here certainly seem to have plenty of links with other civilisations, even given that things had to be brought there by wagon! Examples of reasons why a great power might want to control an area include the following, which you should bear in mind as you read on:A desire for certain natural resources;A desire to control somewhere with strategic value – like a place that sits in between two other places, or that stands in the way of access to another place - the sea perhaps, or a river;A wish to have control over another people and instil one’s own culture in them;A wish to prevent another power from gaining control of it.When the Spanish had taken Potosi, it was, in fact, the natural resource of silver which made it particularly valuable to them.
7B) Now consider the content of the extract in more detail and consider the following questions: What parts of the text suggest that the audience for this book is primarily located in Europe? [quote directly]What evidence is there in the text that Acosta can be considered one of the first geophysicists? (A geophysicist studies the physical and composition of the Earth. Their work might include monitoring earthquakes and volcanoes as well as extracting resources)What can you infer from this extract about the influence of the Spanish conquest on Potosi?[Infer is an fancy way of saying make a reasonable guess]
8Reading it again Source 1 The famous mountain of Potosí is located in the province of Los Charcas, in the kingdom of Peru; it is twenty-one and two thirds degrees distant from the southern or Antarctic Pole, so that it lies within the Tropics near the edge of the Torrid Zone. And yet it is extremely cold, more than Old Castile and more than Flanders, although it ought to be warm or hot considering the distance from the pole at which it lies. What makes it cold is that it is so high and steep and all bathed in very cold and intemperate winds…Its surroundings are dry, cold, and very bleak and completely barren, for it neither engenders nor produces fruit of grain or grass and thus is by nature uninhabitable owing to the unfavourable weather and the great barrenness of the earth.But the power of silver, desire for which draws all other things to itself, has populated that mountain with the largest number of inhabitants in all those realms; and silver has made it so rich in every sort of foodstuff and luxury that nothing can be desired that is not found there in abundance.And, although everything has to be brought in by wagon, its marketplaces are full of fruit, preserves, luxuries, marvellous wines, silks, and adornments, as much as in any other place. The colour of this mountain is a sort of dark red; it is very beautiful to look upon, resembling a well-shaped tent in the form of a sugarloaf.
9So …..The colonisation of the New World in the sixteenth century had an enormous impact on the European imagination and accounts such as this fed the appetite of Europeans for information about the New World.When describing the weather Acosta makes comparisons with European weather, with which his audience will be familiar.His observations and measurements are very precise.He explains why the area surrounding Potosi should be uninhabitable, owing to unfavourable weather and barren land.Nevertheless Potosi is populous and rich because of the Spanish desire for the silver embedded in the mountain, with every luxury obtainable.
10So …..This shows the enormous impact the colonisation of the New World in the sixteenth century had on South America as well as on the world economy.During the sixteenth century silver mining was the most influential economic activity in South America and the mining site of Potosi, located in what today is the country of Bolivia, became the symbol of the continent’s immense wealth.Either by force or voluntarily, thousands of people of all walks of life moved to Potosi, where they were observed by Acosta and these observations were disseminated through the Natural and Moral History.
11Now read source 2, which is also from Acosta’s Natural and Moral History of the Indies and consider the questions which follow.Source 2…men will spend much effort to seek silver in the bowels of the earth. And yet they work there in perpetual darkness, with no idea of when it is day or night; and as these are places never visited by the sun, not only is there perpetual darkness but it is also extremely cold, with a very heavy atmosphere unfit for man’s nature; and so it happens that those who enter the mine for the first time feel weak and dizzy, as happened to me, experiencing nausea and cramps in the stomach.The miners always work by candlelight, dividing their labour in such a way that some work by day and rest at night, and others work at night and rest by day. The ore is usually very hard and is loosened by blows of a mattock, which is like breaking stone. Then they carry the ore on their backs up ladders made of three strands of leather plaited into thick ropes, with sticks placed between one strand and another as steps, so that one man can be descending while another is climbing… Each man has a fifty-pound load in a blanket tied over his breast, with the ore it contains at his back; three men make the climb at one time. The first carries a candle tied to his thumb so that they can see, for, as I have said, no daylight comes from above. They climb by catching hold with both hands, and in this way ascend the great distances I have described, often more than 150 estados, a horrible thing about which it is frightening even to think….Such is the power of money, for the sake of which men do and suffer so much.
12From the internal evidence of this source, suggest an answer to each of the following: Can you summarise what is being said in the passage? [everyone have a go – put your answer in the textbox but don’t press enter til I say ‘Go’]Can you infer anything from the passage about Acosta’s likely view on the treatment of the indigenous workers in the mines?Using both sources and the information you have been given, can you suggest how inhabitants may have benefited from the silver mining, and what negative effects it may have had?
13The provision of labourers for the silver mines was a matter of debate for both Spanish administrators and missionaries because of the extremely harsh conditions in which miners had to work.Most Spanish officials argued that that the indigenous people’s work was the contribution they had to pay in exchange for the ‘gift’ of being evangelised (converted to Christianity).Although Acosta did not fully oppose such views, by providing and disseminating this description of work in the mines, he sharply criticised his compatriots.At the same time, it is also clear that there was wealth in Potosi and much contact with the outside world.Whether the non-Spanish inhabitants were able to benefit from this is less clear. Life in the mines was clearly difficult.
14Now look at Source 3, an engraving showing workers in the silver mines at Potosi. Source 3: The Potosi Mines. Engraving by Theodor de Bry. In: Girolamo Benzoni, Historia Americae Sive Novi Orbis, pars sesta, 1596.Compare this source with José de Acosta’s account of the condition of workers in source 2 and then try to answer the following questions:What similarities and/or differences can you find between the two sources?What hypotheses can you create to account for these similarities/differences?
15So ….The interest in the New World and its silver mines spurred the production of visual images that circulated widely across Europe.This engraving, by Theodor de Bry, is undoubtedly, in fact, based on José de Acosta’s description of labour conditions in the Potosi mines, and that accounts for the similarities which you may have picked up between the written and the visual source.Sixteenth century European ideas about how the indigenous inhabitants of the New World looked; interpretations about their degree of civilisation; imaginations of the fauna and flora of the New World, among others, are represented.
16Not shown by the evidence. Finally, take all these sources together and look at the following statement. Decide to what extent it is supported by the evidence of this extract. It may be show to be true; shown to be probably true; shown to be possibly true; shown to be untrue; or not shown (which does not necessarily mean it is not true, merely that no evidence for it has been shown here).Spanish colonisation of the Americas benefited the indigenous inhabitants:Definitely true;Probably true;Possibly true;Definitely untrue;Not shown by the evidence.Definitely true: There is very little evidence here to support this answer. This is an occasion where differing political and religious viewpoints could lead to different interpretations. Potosi clearly became a very rich town, and was a symbol of how an inhospitable environment could be tamed, but there is little evidence to suggest that this benefited the indigenous inhabitants. A Christian standpoint might be that the work of missionaries in introducing the indigenous population to Christianity benefited them, but others might see this as small recompense for the effective enslavement of many. Probably true: The same issues stand as in the answer above. There is little evidence in these three sources to suggest this. Possibly true: There might be little evidence in the sources themselves, but taking a longer term view the sources could be seen to imply modernisation and Christianisation which could be seen as eventually providing benefits for the indigenous population. Definitely untrue: This might be a more appealing answer based on the evidence of these three sources. Sources 2 and 3 in particular depict seemingly inhuman conditions for the miners which might not have existed without Spanish colonisation. On the other hand there is no evidence about the living conditions these workers would have endured without the Spanish invasion so it is difficult to tell. This is an occasion when it is necessary for the historian to put to one side contemporary views of what civilisation means and try to understand a different world on its own terms. It might be inferred from source 1 that some indigenous people may have benefited from collaborating with the Spanish, through, for example, trading and the provision of the luxuries in Potosi. Not shown by the evidence: This answer may seem to be dodging the issue. It is certainly possible to speculate on the basis of the sources, but it might be necessary to say that a greater variety of sources would be needed, including some from the point of view of some of the indigenous people themselves, in order to provide a convincing and substantiated answer.