Two new histories on a subject important to New Mexicans – indeed, to all Americans – are monumental in their scope, accessible and enlightening in their narratives, yet dramatically different in their approach.
One history is Robert Goodwin’s “América – The Epic Story of Spanish North America, 1493-1898.”
The other is Carrie Gibson’s “El Norte – The Epic and Forgotten Story of Hispanic North America.”
Gibson wrote in an email that her research was driven in part by what interested her as a historian and in part “as a reader rather than a sense of what I ought to be including.”
Those thoughts propelled her to write about her cross-pollinating journeys looking historically into Hispanic life in El Norte beginning in the 16th century and observing the changing demographics of her high school in Dalton, Ga., in the 1990s, reflecting population shifts in the nation.
In four years, she recalled in the author’s note, the school went from majority English-speaking with a few students in English as a Second Language classes to full ESL classes in her senior year. These ESL students were children of the thousands of Mexicans who moved to Dalton for work in the town’s carpet mills.
Gibson’s observations bookend the narrative about Hispanic North America (United States and Mexico).
As she put it in her email, “… at a time when the United States continues to struggle with questions of race, nationality, citizenship, language and belonging, it seemed clear me that I would be working across these themes.
“… What I wanted to develop was a sense of overlap – that these centuries of events had points of contact, all of which connect over time and which help illuminate how the distant past informs the present day,” Gibson wrote.
For years, historian Goodwin wrote in an email, he’s been “wanting to write a book about all the parts of the United States that used to be Spanish. ‘América’ is that book.” He wrote that it is almost fully written “from original Spanish sources, so it offers a very unusual Spanish perspective on the geographical territory of the modern USA.”
His book tells history, as he put, through interconnecting stories, focusing on the realities of the protagonists. “I wanted my narrative to be very vivid, film-like … I have used contemporary diaries, reports, paintings, and even poetry,” Goodwin wrote.
For example, he quoted Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá’s epic poem to help tell the story of Don Juan de Oñate’s invasion of Pueblo New Mexico (“Arms, and the man I sing, of valor, prudence/…” ). Villagrá was Oñate’s legal counsel for the expedition.
Another aid in the telling are documentary sources that Goodwin wrote “give a strong sense of the Spanish experience and how they understood it.” For the Pueblo Revolt, he tried to use available pueblo oral histories and pueblo testimonies.
Goodwin’s book begins in 1493. That year Columbus reached what is the first major island that is today a U.S. territory – Puerto Rico. The book concludes in Puerto Rico in 1898, the year that marked the end of the Spanish-American War with the victorious U.S. annexing Puerto Rico.
Gibson also wrote “Empire’s Crossroads: A History of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day.”
Goodwin is the author of “Crossing the Continent, 1527-1540: The Story of the First African-American Explorer of the American South” and “Spain: The Center of the World, 1519-1682.”