The Conquest of the Americas :: Part 1 - Eva Varga

March 6, 20114

In our history studies, we have been exploring the Mayan and Incan cultures.  Unfortunately, our history spine, Story of the World, only briefly touches upon these cultures.  We thereby spend a lot of time expanding our studies by reading the non-fiction books available at our library and doing a variety of projects.

Recently, a friend and fellow swimmer, happened to ask Buddy what he had been learning in school this week.  Buddy replied, “I started learning division.  In history, we are learning about the Maya and the Aztecs. We are also learning about Newton and motion.” As a result, he recommended to me a book called Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.

As he spoke, I was increasingly fascinated by the premise the author presented.  As we were going to the library that afternoon, I made it a point to locate the book while I was there.  At the time, the book was checked out but the librarian informed me that she could request the National Geographic DVD recording based on the book.  This turned out to be a blessing as the book is well over 500 pages.  The DVD would enable both the kiddos to develop an understanding of how these ancient cultures declined after the arrival of the Spanish.

This work was first published in 1997 and won the Pulitzer Prize. In this historical, archaeological, and linguistic investigation, Diamond (a professor of geography at the University of California at Los Angeles) seeks the root answers to why European societies (and their American offspring) became the dominant powers on Earth in terms of wealth and power. He traces the causes – the development of deadlier weapons technologies and medal working, immunity to germs, and writing systems–to the way food production varied in human societies.

The munchkins and I were fascinated by the film, though we broke it into 3 viewing segments just as it is divided on the DVD:  Out of Eden, The Conquest, and Into the Tropics.  Afterwards, we discussed the concepts presented and I asked them each to narrate a summary (see follow-up post, The Conquest of the Americas :: Part 2).  [Admin Note:  Lesson plans to accompany  Guns, Germs and Steel are available on PBS.]

Shortly after, I was discussing the film with a Peruvian friend who suggested that we also watch a documentary conveniently shared on YouTube,  The Great Incan Rebellion.  This NOVA/National Geographic special presents new evidence that is changing what we know about the final days of the once-mighty Inca Empire. Through a mix of crime-lab science and archeology, this story of discovery begins in a cemetery crammed with skeletons that offer tantalizing clues about a fierce 16th-century battle between warriors of the collapsing Inca Empire and Spanish invaders.

Both documentaries are available on Netflix and YouTube (in segments).  I highly recommend both.


  • Pebblekeeper ~ Angie

    March 6, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Great tip! The movie is also on Netflix Play it Now. When I added it to our cue – Netflix revealed quite a few more National Geo movies. Awesome!

  • Our Pace

    March 6, 2011 at 6:04 pm

    Cool! We just studied this, but we will be sure to see these movies. 🙂

  • Alex

    March 6, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Those 2 documentaries sound fascinating. I hope the first one is available at our library too.

  • FairyLover

    March 6, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    You are so right about the lack of resources available for Mayan and Incas. My son is Mayan and we have had a hard time finding things about his culture for him.

    Kathi Sewing, Knitting, Candle Making, Homeschooling Mama

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