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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

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Activities: Author Activities

Garcilaso de la Vega - Author Questions

Back Back to Garcilaso de la Vega Activities
  1. Comprehension: Why does the cacique Hirrihigua bear such enmity toward Juan Ortiz? What motivates his brutal treatment of his Spanish captive?

  2. Comprehension: During the Renaissance the status of Native Americans was much debated: it was not uncommon to question whether they were fully human or even if they had souls. What criteria does Garcilaso de la Vega use to laud the Florida Indians? What do these criteria tell us about his perspective on what constitutes a fully human or even a "civilized" people? How does his definition of essential humanity compare to that of the conquistadors?

  3. Comprehension: What is the role of Christianity and paganism in the narrative of Juan Ortiz? Which characters exemplify Christian qualities? How does de la Vega complicate traditional European ideas about Native American morality and religion?

  4. Context: How does Juan Ortiz's story compare to John Smith's account of his own salvation through the intervention of Pocahontas? Why do you think Pocahontas's story has received so much more attention and is so frequently retold? What is the effect of de la Vega's decision not to record Hirrihigua's daughter's name?

  5. Context: Both Juan Ortiz and Cabeza de Vaca were stranded in North America as a result of the ill-fated Panfilo de Narváez expedition. How do Juan Ortiz's experiences compare to Cabeza de Vaca's?

  6. Context: Garcilaso de la Vega praises the beauty of the native women in Florida, and even places them on the level of Cleopatra. What significance does the physical beauty of native peoples play in de la Vega's (or conquistadors') account? What is the rhetorical value of comparing the women to the Egyptian queen? Compare Garcilaso de la Vega's portrait of Native American women to those composed by other colonists, conquistadors, and engraver Theodor De Bry.

  7. Context: De la Vega's narrative points to the often shaky distinction between "history" and "fiction" during the Renaissance. (In fact the Spanish word for history, historia, is also the word for story.) What parts of The Florida of the Inca seem to be the result of imagination rather than eyewitness testimony?

  8. Exploration: While de la Vega's account of Juan Ortiz's relationship with Hirrihigua's daughter is one of the earliest descriptions of an interracial relationship between a European and a Native American, it certainly was not the last. Interracial relationships and romances between Native Americans and Europeans or European Americans fascinated nineteenth-century American writers as well. How does Juan Ortiz and Hirrihigua's daughter's story compare to later fictional interracial romances (such as Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans, Child's Hobomok, or Sedgwick's Hope Leslie)?

  9. Exploration: Pan-Indianism usually refers to the nonviolent liberation philosophy of Native Americans and is based in part on the belief that Native Americans share a collective spiritual reality and certain essential cultural attributes that distinguish them from European Americans and other groups. In the preface to Florida, de la Vega makes an early move toward pan-Indianism when he claims that his Incan ancestry allows him to present a unique and more truthful perspective on the de Soto expedition and on the native peoples of Florida, although he had never set foot in Florida and presumably never spoke to a native Floridian. What evidence could you use to substantiate de la Vega's claim? What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of Pan-Indianism as a rhetorical and political strategy?

  10. Exploration: Eight paintings grace the Capitol rotunda in Washington, D.C., each of which depicts a key moment in the discovery and independence of the United States. One of these is William Powell's Discovery of the Mississippi by Hernando de Soto, 1541 A.D. There are three other images of discovery: Landing of Columbus, by John Vanderlyn, Baptism of Pocahontas, by John Chapman, and Embarkation of the Pilgrims, by Robert Weir. All were painted between 1840 and 1853. To what extent do these images still represent what we might consider the four key moments in the discovery of the United States? Would the de Soto expedition still play so large a role if these paintings were to be created today?

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