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Bridge over the Apurímac

Mapping Conquest

A Spatial History of the Spanish Invasion of Indigenous Peru (ca. 1528-1572)

What role did Indigenous actors play in the Spanish ‘conquest’ of Peru?
How were these foreign invasions affected by local Indigenous history and geography?

To answer these questions, this work combines ethnohistorical, digital history, and geospatial methodologies to retell the story of the Spanish invasion of Peru (and of European conquests of Indigenous societies more generally).

This study integrates these methods – as well as lessons from similar interdisciplinary fields such as literary geography and Historical GIS – into a new two-step methodology. This methodology: a) deconstructs colonial texts and traces how they conceal Indigenous activity and presence, and b) reconstructs the role of previously erased or marginalized Indigenous people, places, institutions, and histories.

For the conquest of Peru, the resulting analysis contributes to other scholarship examining the key role of Indigenous allies and auxiliaries in shaping the events of the conquest era. Unlike previous research - which is largely anecdotal - this study systematically reconstructs the ubiquity and magnitude of this aid and participation. Moreover, it shows Andean allies invited, guided, accompanied, and fought alongside the conquistadors not as passive subordinates but as political actors pursuing their own agenda.

In doing this, this project re-examines and re-imagines the following events:

  1. The simultaneous Spanish exploration of the coast of Peru and the outbreak of the Inka Civil War (Ch. 2)
  2. the encounter at Cajamarca (1532; Ch. 3);
  3. a much-overlooked series of diplomatic negotiations between the conquistadors and Andean nobility (1532-33; Ch. 4),
  4. the initial invasion of the Inka heartland as manifested by the march of Francisco Pizarro, his fellow conquistadors, and massive numbers of auxiliaries and slaves from Cajamarca to Cusco (1533; Ch. 5);
  5. Manqo Inka's nearly-successful effort to destory the nascent Spanish colony in 1536 and 1537 (Chs. 6 and 7);
  6. Finally, it concludes by mapping the limited range of Spanish power and the vast spaces of Indigenous power and resistance surrounding them in the first few decades after invasion (Ch. 8).

Methods for putting Indigenous people back on the map

By applying digital and spatial analysis to this research, this project demonstrates the potential of new methodologies to wring new insights out of colonial texts and other sources. This section highlights some of these methods.

Typical Maps of Conquest

The typical map of the Spanish conquest of Peru - found in many books on the topic - traces the route of Francisco Pizarro from his first explorations of the coast to his march through Inka Peru, ending with his arrival in the imperial capital of Cusco (1531-1533). The problem with this map is that it suggests the Spanish invaded a blank and people-less landscape. Like most European eyewitness texts, these maps erase the presence and agency of Indigenous people.

Pizarro route
The route of Francisco Pizarro's invasion of Peru, 1531-33.

Mapping Indigenous Territory

This project, among other things, seeks to place Indigenous people back on the map. The simplest way to do this is to include approximations of Indigenous territory. Here, Pizarro's 1533 invasion of Peru is laid over not a map of blank Andean territory, but a cartographic approximation of the territory occupied and controlled by the Hurin Huaylas ethnic polity. Unlike previous maps of the Pizarro invasion, this one makes clear the conquistadors were entering Indigenous territory with a history.1

Hurin Huaylas
Pizarro's route through Huaylas territory, Sept. 1533.

Mapping Indigenous History

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Hurin Huaylas
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Mapping Experiences

In 1527, the conquest expedition was in crisis. Now occupying the uninhabited Rooster Island (Isla del Gallo), only about eighty survivors remained of the original 300 who had set out with Francisco Pizarro three years earlier. The rest had died of disease, starvation, dehydration, battles with natives, over-exertion, and even caymen or crocodile attacks. However, the nature of these experiences was not the result of geography alone. Rather, as Heidi Scott has argued, the Spaniards' “physical engagements with landscape, and consequently their portrayals of it, were strongly shaped by the agency of Indigenous groups and by their physical presence or absence.”1.5 Interestingly, the fields of literary geography and affective cartography provide a means to test this argument. Click on the image to the left to see how I apply affective or emotional cartographic techniques to demonstrate the link between the availability of Indigenous labor and the experiences of the conquistadors during their initial explorations along the coast.

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Mapping Movement

For some time, ethnohistorians have, of course, been mapping the location and territories of Indigenous groups. However, this tendency to map ethnic territory often provides the misleading impression of stasis even when the accompanying text more carefully describes communities under constant flux and historical change.

Thus, after mapping Indigenous presence, the second goal of this ethno-spatial history is to map historical change and dynamism. Interestingly, in the definitive introduction to spatial history, Richard White argues the primary focus and contribution of the field is the study of movement.2 Over the long term, Indigenous groups migrated, relocated, expanded, and contracted. A smaller- resolution analysis of history shows the lives of Indigenous people, like all people, were defined by mobility: daily, seasonal, and periodic treks, commutes, and relocations leading to a variety of intercultural exchanges and interactions. For a history of events, such as the events of the conquest-era, the activity and movement of Indigenous people has remained sorely understudied. In particular, while many scholars have shown how much colonial texts conceal Indigenous agency, there is still a need to systematically reconstruct this activity as a means to uncover the dynamism of Indigenous America during the era of European contact and conquest.

As the ethnohistorian of North America Michael McDonnell argues, “we need to rely less on European words and more on native actions over time.” This study does just this - it moves past European explanations to analyze and map Indigenous activity recorded in European and Indigenous texts. Whereas colonial texts may focus almost entirely on the activity of a few Europeans – only dropping a few hints to the movement and activity of much larger groups of Indigenous people, the maps produced here allow the visual comparison of the magnitude of such activity. Thick lines, representing the marches of Indigenous armies numbering in the tens of thousands, dwarf narrow lines symbolizing the movements of small bands of conquistadors.

Changing Orientation and Perspective

This spatial history also 'counter-maps' the conquest by decentering the European and re-centering the Andean. One common way ethnohistorians often flip the table on typical Eurocentric histories is simply by changing the narrator’s - and by extension - the reader’s orientation.

For North America, this generally means “facing east from Indian Country.”3 This often involves recentering the story in the Indigenous heartland, on the far periphery of European settlements.4

For Peru, I decenter the Spanish conquistador both spatially and temporally. Temporally, I broaden the analysis by beginning with the Inka Civil War and other events which preceded the Spanish invasion. Spatially, this study reorients the study of conquest by examining events taking place far from the gaze of the Spanish and exploring how the deep history of each place helped produce these events. For example, the map to the right shows eight of the nine places examined in the chapter "Beyond Cajamarca." (the ninth, Panama, is beyond the scope of the map). Of these nine places analyzed, the Spanish only occupied one in 1532-33 (Cajamarca; they also occupied San Miguel de Piura which is off the map to the north) and briefly passed through some of the others. Indigenous sources allow the reconstruction of events taking place beyond the gaze of the conquistadors.

Locations discussed in the chapter "Beyond Cajamarca."
Mapping Other Spaces / Mapping Other Events
[Click above to view full poster reconstructing Indigenous activity away from Cajamarca]

Mapping the Spatiality of Texts

Nearly all historical texts have an underlying spatiality. That is, nearly all texts store spatial information, whether in the form of place-names or spatial relationships. Historical texts that describe real places can thus be mapped in a variety of ways to interrogate both the information contained and that omitted from the text as well as to examine how different places and spaces are described.

Interestingly, most of the important developments in the study and mapping of the underlying spatiality or geography of texts comes from literary scholars. Literary geographers have been active in recent years mapping the position of literary authors and their texts in space. They have examined both the geography within books and the geography of books.5 The former traces the narrative content of literature and what it reveals about the author and the time and place in which the book was written. The latter maps out the geographic dispersion of published literature and the associated diffusion of ideas from this literature.

While literary geographers have been busy mapping and analyzing the spatiality of literature, few historians have adapted these methods to historical texts and other sources. For example, in my study of the conquistadors' 1533 invasion of Peru, I trace the locations mentioned in the most detailed account of this invasion, Pedro Sancho's An Account of the Conquest of Peru. The application of “kernel density” or “cluster” analysis allows for the visual identification of the geographic density of descriptions found in Sancho’s account. Thus, the dark blue circles indicate the places Sancho most frequently mentions. This in turn poses a question little explored previously: why did European authors describe their experiences in some places while leaving out others?71

Visualizing Trends in Scholarship

As with primary sources, it is just as possible to visualize and/or map patterns contained within historical scholarship. Here I compare modern histories of the conquest of Peru. In particular, I wanted to examine how the emphasis and focus of modern histories on the conquest have changed over the past two centuries. In what ways did historians' emphasis on events change over time? This choice matters as the selection or omission of particular events - the same with actors and places - can bend a particular narrative one way or another. For example, as I argue in an article I am about to submit to a journal on Latin American history, focusing on the event of the "Encounter at Cajamarca" between Atawallpa and the conquistadors can perpetuate a narrative of domination. Exploring alternative spaces and events, however, challenges this narrative of an easy, complete conquest and domination.

In a later post, I hope to add a few more key modern narratives and explain what this graph tells us about how the story of the conquest of Peru has been told and retold.

Area graph of the words devoted to key events of the conquest of Peru by modern histories. Note: a data scientist may be offended by my use of a smoothed area or line graph to represent discrete data. However, I argue - even though I collected discrete data in the form of an estimated number of words devoted to each event - the truth is that the narrative account of each event naturally bleeds into the next. Thus, the use of rounded lines, rather than the sharp drop-offs of bar graphs, represents an approximation of a real trend in these narratives of conquest.

Data Visualizations: Exploring and Communicating Patterns

As is clear above, much of this work is spatial in nature. That is, it seeks to not only document but also visualize how the events of the conquest-era moved across space as well as time.

However, as a result of prior experiences working on digital history projects and experimenting with digital tools for historical scholarship, I believe digital data visualization techniques can help scholars recognize and communicate a whole slew of patterns far beyond the spatial. Graphs and charts of quantitative data are the most obvious examples. However, there are many robust techniques available for the visualization of more qualitative and imprecise data.

For example, in Mapping Conquest I explore the question: just how many Indigenous auxiliaries and allies assisted Pizarro and his fellow conquistadors? Given the available information, this is impossible to say for certain. Not a single source ever endeavored to estimate the total number of allied warriors, diplomats, laborers, and servants that accompanied the conquest expedition. This is not even to speak of the long caravan of dogs, pigs, and llamas: the last of which carried food, supplies, and plunder for the conquistadors.

There is good reason for this silence. Spanish texts in general rarely even mentioned their Andean companions let alone their African and Central American slaves. Conquistadors sought to exaggerate their own importance in their accounts. Describing how they were so thoroughly aided in every juncture of the conquest challenges the narrative they wished to send back home: that of an audacious, valiant, and solitary conquest on behalf of the Crown.

Likewise, Indigenous sources - which did seek credit for the assistance they provided the conquistadors - failed to mention the simultaneous assistance provided by Andeans from other ethnic groups.

Besides the image below, an animation of the entire caravan is here (check it out)


Fortunately, there are a variety of indirect clues to the overall size of the expedition. From these clues I have reconstructed a one-tenth sample of the caravan that likely accompanied the Spaniards on their march to Cusco. Scroll across the image above to see the approximate proportion of Andeans (gray) to Spaniards (black). The types of actors that participated are indicated by the legend to the right. Note: this some sizeable number of women were included among the Andean ethnic nobility and porters. In total, I estimate 10,000 or more Andeans as well as African and Central American slaves marched with the conquistadors on their journey. This estimate derives from the following clues:

  1. The well-documented amount of gold and silver carried by the conquistadors from Cajamarca to Cusco. Using archaeological literature to calculate the average weight an Andean porter (which often were men but not exclusively) could carry, I estimate at least 1,000 such porters were needed to carry the gold and silver alone. This does not include the additional porters needed to transport food and supplies for the Spanish as well as the porters bearing the gold and silver.
  2. The amount of food the Wankas stated they gave the Spanish along the journey in a series of petitions they wrote between 1558 and 1561. The amount of food they gave at various points along the journey could have fed an army several times the size of the Spanish contingent.
  3. The typical proportion of Andean allies, porters, as well as African and Central American slaves on other conquest expeditions that are better documented.

1. To make this map, I began with a basemap made from one of a series of intricately hand-drawn relief maps of the mountains of Peru made by the nineteenth-century Peruvian geographer Mariano Felipe Paz Soldán. Then, I added the approximate territory of the Hurin Huaylas and other Andean ethnic groups. At times, such stylized maps provide more clarity than the hyper-realism provided by topographic maps made with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software. These GIS maps, by showing all the topographic relief and complexity of the Andes - tend to wash away some of the most prominent mountains and canyons. In this map by Paz Soldán, however, the major mountain ranges become clear, even if the undulating and vertical terrain between these ranges are omitted.

1.5. Scott, Contested Territory, 14.

2. Richard White, “What Is Spatial History?,” Spatial History Project, 2010, http://www.stanford.edu/group/spatialhistory/cgi-bin/site/pub.php?id=29.

3. Daniel Richter, Facing East from Indian Country (2003).

4. For relatively recent examples of this reorientation of colonial Indigenous histories see: Pekka Hämäläinen, The Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009); Elizabeth A. Fenn, Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People, Reprint edition (Hill and Wang, 2015); Andrew Lipman, The Saltwater Frontier: Indians and the Contest for the American Coast, 2015.

5. Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel, 1800-1900 (London; New York: Verso, 1998); Matthew L. Jockers, Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2013); David Cooper, Christopher Donaldson, and Patricia Murrieta-Flores, eds., Literary Mapping in the Digital Age (Farnham, Surrey, England ; Burlington, VT: Routledge, 2016); Charles W. J. Withers, Geographies of the Book (Routledge, 2016).

6. There is, of course, abundant evidence that conquistadors often marched their native allies, servants, and slaves to their deaths. However, there is also evidence the nature of the Spaniard's relationship and treatment of Indigenous laborers depended on local and historical circumstances. For example, in a moment of unusual clarity, one Spanish witness in a trial recalled how Andean allies participated in these caravans of their own free will. Simultaneously, according to this man's testimony, the Spaniards' slaves and servants (which included Andeans, Central Americans, and Africans) trudged through the Andes, carrying their heavy loads, while chained together. I also hypothesize that these porters participating in these early conquest expeditions did so under slightly better, if still difficult, conditions than did their successors in the years to come. This is due to the conquistador's overwhelming dependence on native allies at the time.