1492: Americans discover Europe

Americans, perhaps thirty million strong did not submissively accept the rule of Europeans. Their resistance and reception of the foreigners varied greatly. We visit Dominican Republic, where Columbus established a beachhead and then to the Mexican port of Veracruz where Hernán Cortés landed 28 years later. We follow his route across lofty mountain chains to Tenochtitlán of the Aztecs, today’s Mexico City where the final showdown took place. Along the way we show some of what Cortés encountered.

Learning Objective

Students will learn about the arrival of the Spaniards in today’s region of Mexico City.

Social Studies Standards

Culture A, B, C

Discussion Prompts

  • How might Hernan Cortes be seen in the history books: visionary, conquistador, or mercenary? Explain your answers. 
  • Discuss the advantages and disadvantages the Spaniards brought to Cuba and Mexico. In your opinion, is Mexico a better place as a result of it? Elaborate your answers.
  • Compare the stories of the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico City with any other part of the world that were colonized by Europeans. What is similar and what is different? Who in your political and cultural world had similar actions as Hernan Cortez? Why and how?
  • Discuss how religion, political ambitions, and diseases destroyed ninety percent of the Mexican population and what the consequences were for the Aztecs. Include Marina or Malinche in the discussion. Which other woman in history shares a similar position to Malinche?

Lesson Activities

  • Thinking like a cartographer, recreate the map that Hernan Cortez used to travel up to his arrival in Mexico. Label the oceans and other places he might have passed by before landing in Vera Cruz. Estimate how much time and terrain he travelled until his destination, Vera Cruz.
  • Using Diego Rivera’s mural as an inspiration, create your own political mural, Salvador Dali’s style, of the Aztecs’ culture, power, and fight. Include a symbolic version of Hernan Cortez in the illustration.
  • Imagine that there was TV back then and your job as a reporter would be to interview Hernan Cortez in your broadcast. What would the headlines be to let people know about the interview? List at least five questions you would ask him and answer those questions from his perspective.
  • As an architect you were tasked to build a school building but as part of the building you must include representations of pre- and post-Colombian, and pagan elements. What elements would you chose? Create a model of the building to share your vision with the board members for their final approval.


  • beachhead
  • decimate
  • discovered
  • enslave
  • exterminate
  • found
  • lofty
  • resistance
  • showdown
  • submissive


In the Americas Season 10 Lesson Episode 10