A Land So Strange Reading Notes And Response

"We came from where the sun rose, and they came from where it set; we cured the sick, and they killed those who were well; we came naked and barefoot, and they went about dressed and on horses and with lances; and we did not covet anything, but rather, everything they gave us we later returned and remained with nothing, and the others had no other objective but to steal everything they found and did not give anything to anyone."

-- Cabeza de Vaca, in describing the way in which his indigenous companions contrasted Cabeza de Vaca and his three companions with Nuno de Guzman and his fellow slavers

The Assignment: 

Part 1)  Complete a detailed set of Reading Notes that demonstrates you have directly and substantially engaged with Andres Resendez's A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca.  These should include bullet-point notes from the book with page references to each note taken and then active commentary upon your note-taking throughout if choosing Option A below.

Part 2)  After you have completed your notes, add a Reading Response of 250+ words in which you describe your main takeaways and comments upon this book.

The Options

Option A)  Active Note-Taking:  Take notes as read but add comments as you proceed.  These can take the form of brief reactions, analysis, or questions, and certainly do not need to be included after every bullet-point.  But do try to engage with the book throughout and think of yourself as in a conversation with the author rather than merely being the passive recipient of the story he is telling.  You should still complete a Reading Response at the end of this exercise.

Option B)  Less Active Note-Taking:  Try to paraphrase the information presented as you proceed.  The focus for the first part of the exercise can be on reading; on absorbing information; and on getting as far into the book as possible rather than on active commentary.  You should, however, still complete your individualized Reading Response of 250+ words after you have completed your reading.

***Those students who think they would prefer an expanded Reading Response rather than extensive Note-Taking should ask me individually whether this is possible.  It is important to gain permission before proceeding with this third option.

Buy The Book!

You will need a copy of A Land So Strange to complete this assignment.  There may still be copies in the Campus Bookstore.  An e-text is available for purchase for $17 HERE.

Due Date

Wednesday, February 15th.

Some Questions To Consider

What most surprised you about A Land So Strange?

To what extent can the story of Cabeza de Vaca be used as a window onto the early era of Spanish colonization of the Americas?  To what extent does acknowledging the Spanish history of North America add to our understanding of colonization?

Do you accept the stark contrast Resendez draws between the approach to colonization adopted by most of the conquistadors and the more humane interactions reputedly favoured by Cabeza de Vaca?

How would you begin to describe and to analyze the indigenous societies encountered by Cabeza de Vaca?  What most surprised you about these groups as described by Resendez?

In what ways did A Land So Strange add to your understanding of the history of slavery and to slavery as a social practice and as a lived institution?  What are the various ways in which slavery is featured in A Land So Strange?

Which character or characters grabbed your attention?  Why?

How important is the story of Cabeza de Vaca?

How would you begin to assess Resendez's approach to his topic?  What sources does he use?  What questions seem to drive him?

What are the strengths and weaknesses of A Land So Strange?

What questions are you left with after completing A Land So Strange?


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