ABSTRACT

The Very Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies, written by the Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas in 1542, and subsequently printed in 1552, is without question the most controversial text to have issued from the pens and presses of early modern Spain. The text is nothing short of a rhetorical masterpiece designed to influence crown policy towards its possessions in the Americas, by convincing its reader, ideally the monarch, that the conquistadors have carried out innumerable acts of unspeakable cruelty, and that the crown must now intervene to protect its Amerindian subjects from further abuse. It also represents an extended exercise in a particular sort of cartography, an imaginary one in which schematic geographical description functions hand in hand with putatively historical narrative in an attempt to fashion an ethically and politically charged image of a particular place, the Spanish Indies. In this way, it has something to teach us about the power of mapping without maps.