186 minutes | Apr 23rd 2020

The Invention of America

Part Four of the Conquest of the Americas begins with a short discussion about the indigenous people of Brazil, especially the Tupi-Guarani speaking people first encountered by Europeans when they reach Brazil.  Included are graphic descriptions of cannibalism as practiced in Brazil at the start of the 16th century.


Next, the episode moves on to the topic of Amerigo Vespucci, the infamous Italian liar for whom two continents are named.

Vicente Pinzon was the Spanish explorer who "discovered" Brazil in 1498, and his expedition, as well as those of Mendoza, and de Lepe. 

However, although the Spanish first sailed to Brazil it was claimed by the Portuguese after the voyage of Pedro Alvarez Cabral, on his way to India.  Cabral's fleet spent 9 days on the Brazilian coastline.  They built a cross.  It was very festive.

Portugal's king Dom Manuel sent a return fleet to Brazil the next year, commanded by Niccolo Coelho, who took some time mapping Brazil’s coastline – in all journeying something like 2,500 miles of coastline– and amongst his crew was a certain Amerigo Vespucci.

Spanish and Portuguese attempts at uncovering the straight to the Pacific are then discussed before getting to the successful attempt by Ferdinand Magellan. 

Next the episode turns to the French in Brazil and the resulting rivalry between Portugal and France.  It turns out that the French don't give a damn about the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Ultimately, the Portuguese begin sending fleets to Brazil to "pull out the weeds of French colonialism" and after the Portuguese burn a French fort the Portuguese decide to settle Brazil in order to keep their rivals out.  Thus begins the system of donatary captaincies in Brazil.

Finally, the episode ends with a discussion of "go-betweens" and how people like Amerigo Vespucci were more important for their depictions of America than for his claiming to be first to get there.  Europeans become obsessed with the freedoms with Brazilians possess and ultimately the Tupi-Guarani cannibals in Brazil are partly responsible for later episodes of European history such as the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, and real revolutions like the Dutch Revolution and later American and French Revolutions. Wow, what a story!


Primary Sources


The Letters of Amerigo Vespucci and other documents illustrative of his career Kindle Editionby Amerigo Vespucci (Author), Bartolomé de las Casas (Author), & 2 more


The Voyage of Pedro Álvares Cabral to Brazil and India: From Contemporary Documents and Narratives (Hakluyt Society, Second Series) 1st Editionby William Brooks Greenlee (Editor)


 Documents and Narratives Concerning the Discovery and Conquest of Latin America: The Histories of Brazil; Number Five, Volume II Paperback – February 4, 2016
by Pero de Magalhães (Author), John B. Stetson, Jr. (Contributor)

Secondary Sources


The European Discovery of America: Vol 2, The Southern Voyages A.D. 1492-1616by Samuel Eliot Morison

 A Cultural History of the Atlantic World, 1250-1820by John K. Thornton


Latin American Civilization: "History and Society, 1492 to the Present" 4th Editionby Benjamin Keen (Editor)


Europe and the People Without History Second Editionby Eric R. Wolf

 Foundations of the Portuguese Empire, 1415-1580 (Europe and the World in the Age of Expansion, vol. I) Paperback – November 25, 1977
by Bailey W. Diffie and George D. Winius (Author)


Go-betweens and the Colonization of Brazil: 1500–1600 annotated editionby Alida C. Metcalf  (Author)


Chapters of Brazil's Colonial History, 1500-1800 Revised Editionby Capistrano de Abreu (Author), Arthur Brakel (Translator), Frernando A. Novais (Preface), Stuart Schwartz (Introduction)



Over the Edge of the World: Magellan's Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe Kindle Editionby Laurence Bergreen  (Author) 

The Brazil Reader: History, Culture, Politics (The Latin America Readers) Kindle Editionby James N. Green (Editor), Victoria Langland (Editor), & 1 more 

Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500-1760 Hardcover – June 9, 1978
by John Hemming  (Author)

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