Background: I structured my units chronologically, in line with the AP Curriculum requirements. This first unit not only is about the period of exploration and settlement (the content); it also orients students to the reading and writing of history. Each unit has an overarching essential question, and consists of several series of activities structured to help students achieve particular reading and writing purposes as well as to learn about the content. The reading and writing activities are meant to achieve the six history literacy goals that guide READI instruction in history. (History Learning Goals).

Overarching Essential Question for Unit: What was the impact of the European settlers encounters with the New World?


  • Are the Spanish encounters characterized better as conflict or coexistence?
  • What happened when European settlers met the people of the Americas?
  • How did the attitudes of European colonizers shape the way they colonized the New WorldTC_Bubble

(These questions guide the history content. The literacy goals are embedded in the purposes below.)

Literacy Purposes:

1. To help students understand historian’s differing interpretations of Columbus’ encounters with the native population in the Americas. (Goal 6: Epistemology)TC_Bubble

2. To emphasize the point in the earlier lesson that history consists of accounts that are the approximation of events based upon incomplete, often contradictory evidence from the historical record. (Goal 6: Epistemology)

3. To develop students’ ability to develop their own interpretations of history based upon what they have read. (Goal 5: Evaluation)TC_Bubble

4. To begin to familiarize students with the various kinds of historical texts in the classroom and to help them think about the affordances of these texts.

    • Primary sources—documents and artifacts from the time period. This is the “historical record” upon which historians rely to develop their accounts. They represent the perspectives of their creators and need to be interpreted in light of these perspectives and in the context of the time in which they were created.
    • Secondary sources—documents that interpret the historical record (e.g. a book, article, or monograph written by a historian or journalist). They consist of implicit or explicit arguments (claims, warrants, and evidence) about events—their causes and effects, historical actors’ motivations and tactics, significance, and so on.
    • Tertiary sources—documents that describe or summarize events by relying on primary and secondary sources (e.g. a history textbook). They make claims about what happened but may lack references to evidence. For students, they can be used to provide contextual knowledge because they introduce significant people, places, events, policies, and so on, but they may miss perspectives and details found in primary and secondary sources. (Goal 1: Close Reading of Historical Texts)

5.To provide an introduction to historical thinking: sourcing, contextualization corroboration (Goal 2: Historical Thinking).


The World Known to Europe”

  • This map shows how Europe conceived of the world before the Spanish explorations. I use it to make the point that Europe knew nothing about the “New World,” which then leads to the question of what would happen upon their discovery of it. It provides a way to lead into the overarching question of the unit.
  • Howard Zinn. Peoples History of the United States.  “Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress.”  1980 (access the online version of the chapter here)
    • This is a secondary source. Howard Zinn argues that the Spanish colonization brought more harm than good to the indigenous people of North, Central, and South America, relying largely on evidence from the journals of a Dominican Friar, Bartolome de Las Casas. Zinn describes the Spanish colonization as a ruthless moment in world history. But he does more than that. He also talks about the nature of historiography itself and how historians can lie by omission or can tell the truth so quickly that it gets buried, and he accuses another historian of doing so about Columbus. His argument is strongly stated, and his writing of it draws students in. For those reasons, this text is a good one to begin with.
  • Las Casas. History of the Indies 1542.
    • An excerpt from de Las Casas’ journal, this primary source document presents strong opposition to the Spanish encomienda system, describing in detail horrific treatment of the natives at the hands of the Europeans. The British commissioned the journal fifty years after Columbus’ first voyage. Zinn relies heavily on this document as evidence for a “conflict” interpretation in his chapter, and Bailey (below) uses it but not as the primary piece of evidence. “
  • Bailey, Kennedy, and Cohen. The American Pageant, Chapter 1, p. 14 – 24.
    • This AP history textbook chapter is a tertiary source (drawing from primary and secondary sources) and provides evidence supporting both “conflict” and “coexistence” Like Zinn, Bailey used the de Las Casas journal as evidence, but also included other evidence to achieve a balanced view, with somewhat more weight on the notion of “coexistence” and the notion of a Columbian exchange. Being a textbook, the arguments in it are implicit, not as easily determined as the argument in the Zinn source. Comparing and contrasting the two sources helps students see the difference in secondary and tertiary sources as well as the difference is what the two are claiming about Spanish exploration. Bailey and Zinn are counterpoints.
  • Columbian Exchange map
    • A secondary source, this map details the exchange of products from Europe, Africa, and Asia to the Americas and vice versa, showing the “Columbian Exchange,” –a “coexistence” A Map represents historical information geographically and visually and is an important genre in history, albeit one that students, on their own, may choose to overlook. A map can represent a perspective on the past (as this one does) just like a text can.
  • El Requerimiento
    • El Requerimiento, meaning “the requirement, or demand,” was drafted in 1513 by Juan López de Palacios Rubios, a member of the Council of Castile, which advised King Ferdinand. This primary source document was designed to be read in Spanish by Spanish explorers to American Indians, introducing them to Christian doctrine. Indians were not compelled to convert, but if they did not, they were immediately subject to Spanish invasion. Some historians argue that this document gave Spain the justification for treating the Native Americans with force. While neither Zinn nor Bailey use this document, this primary source provides students with an opportunity to corroborate with Las Casas. However, it also raises interesting questions about Las Casas’ motive for writing, since this the El Requerimiento was drafted many years before Las Casas’ publication.
  • Declaration of Josephe, December 19, 1681.
    • The Pueblo Revolt (1680) is a moment when the Pueblo peoples align their interests to resist Spanish colonizers’ conversion efforts and forced labor demands. In this primary source, Josephe, a Spanish-speaking Indian and survivor of the revolt, is questioned by a royal authority in Mexico City investigating the Pueblo Revolt. The document primarily focuses on the resistance of the Pueblo people to efforts by the Spanish to convert Pueblos to Christianity. Since it is very difficult to locate primary sources written by Native Americans, this particular source provides students’ with the Native American perspective of Spanish colonization. This document also lends itself well to probe at sourcing with the students, due to the fact that Josephe is not the speaker.