Non-Fiction Recommendations, or: "So You'd Like to Learn More about 1492"

If you would like to learn more about the world in 1492, I recommend you take a look at the following books:

Primary Sources

An Account of the Antiquities of the Indians by Ramón Pané
An Account, Much Abbreviated, of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas
Malleus Maleficarum by Heinrich Kramer and Jacob Sprenger
Medieval Iberia: Readings from Christian, Muslim, and Jewish Sources by Olivia Remie Constable
The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus ed. J.M. Cohen
The General and Natural History of the Indies by Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo
The Life of Christopher Columbus From His Own Letters and Journals and Other Documents of His Time by Edward Everett Hale
The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1614: An Anthology of Sources by Lu Ann Homza

Contemporaneous Secondary Sources


De Orbo Novo by Peter Martyr D'Anghera
Diario of Christopher Columbus as reassembled by Bartolomé de las Casas
The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by his son Fernando

15th Century Spain: Modern Sources


Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain by Matthew Carr
The Conversos and Moriscos in Late Medieval Spain and Beyond ed. Kevin Ingram
Hispanic Costume 1480-1530 by Ruth Matilda Anderson
If You Were There in 1492 by Barbara Brenner (for younger readers)
Imperial Spain 1469-1716 by J.H. Elliott
The Jews of Spain by Jane S. Gerber

Contact & Conquest

Columbus: The Four Voyages by Laurence Bergreen
Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest by Matthew Restall

15th Century Taíno History & Culture

1491 by Charles C. Mann
Caciques and Cemí Idols by José R. Oliver
Diccionario Taíno Ilustrado by Edwin Miner Solá
Languages of the Pre-Columbian Antilles by Julian Granberry and Gary Vescelius
Myths and Realities of Caribbean History by Basil A. Reid
Taíno Indian Myth and Practice: Arrival of the Stranger King by William F. Keegan
Talking Taíno: Caribbean Natural History from a Native Perspective by William F. Keegan and Lisabeth A. Carlson
The Lesser Antilles in the Age of European Exploration ed. Robert L. Paquette
The Taínos: Rise and Decline of the People Who Greeted Columbus by Irving Rouse

Here's a nice, short overview by Dr. José Barreiro. And this book, available for free online, has some beautiful images of duhos, cemís, and other artifacts.

Don't forget to visit either branch of the wonderful Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian if you're ever in Washington, D.C. or New York. I highly recommend eating at the cafe at the one in D.C. This article from the Smithsonian is interesting, too.

If you happen to be in Puerto Rico (and like sitting in traffic for hours to get there, jaja), you can take a trip to the Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center. (Of course then we get into issues of "Should Taíno sites and people be a tourist attraction?" which you can discuss among yourselves.)

Here are some more modern resources in English if you'd like to learn more about Taíno culture today:

The United Federation of Taíno People

The Lost Taíno Tribe

Indigenous Resurgence in the Contemporary Caribbean

Prescencia Taina TV

Caribbean Organization of Indigenous Peoples

Kashibahagua Taino Cultural Society

Indigenous Caribbean Network

Review of the Indigenous Caribbean

A Final Note

Remember that it's always vital that you read any historical document with a heaping (heaping!) load of salt - even the primary sources. Take the diary of Christopher Columbus, for example. You might assume it's a historically accurate account of Columbus's first voyage. But you mustn't forget that Columbus wasn't writing this diary for himself. He was writing for an audience. He had some strong incentives to fudge the truth to prove to the crown he had fulfilled his contract with them and deserved all the rewards they had promised him.

To make matters even more confusing, Columbus's original diary was lost, so all we have today are copies by people like his son and Bartolomé de las Casas. That's a problem, because Las Casas was a priest and thus didn't know much about sailing. And he was, to put it mildly, not the biggest fan of Columbus. We can imagine these two traits might have affected his transcription of the original diary.

Plus if you happen to be reading Spanish documents in English, always remember you're reading translations. So therefore: grains of salt.

But don't despair, dear reader. Hope for historical understanding is not lost. If you read multiple sources and use common sense, you can get a pretty good idea of what life would have really been like for Baltasar and his friends.