The European colonization of the Americas dramatically changed the course of Spanish history. It also opened a vast new field for Spanish historical writing that posed major challenges for historians. First, because European readers were unfamiliar with the setting, it was necessary for historians to provide full geographical descriptions of the new territories. Second, these early histories had to deal not only with the enterprises of the Spaniards and their encounters with Natives, but also with the characteristics of the civilizations encountered in the Americas.
The newly revived authors of ancient Greece and Rome, who did not know about the existence of the New World, could not be of much help. Worse yet, the Bible contained no helpful precedents for dealing with such situations. Thus, the history writing tradition begun in 1492 had to fill an unparalleled void by a painful process of acquiring knowledge, as writing developed from mere description of New World peoples to an analysis that could ultimately answer in a satisfactory way the central questions posed by the discovery: Who were indigenous people and how are they related to the inhabitants of the Old World?
This exhibition aims to show the rich variety of Spanish historiographical works produced in Spain and its colonies during the first two hundred years of colonization of the Americas. Preference has been given to titles published before 1700, but a few important ones that were published later have been included as well. The exhibition is arranged thematically, but also follows a chronological order of events whenever possible.