The Hernando de Soto Expedition: History, Historiography, and "Discovery" in the Southeast

By Patricia Galloway | Go to book overview

Patricia Galloway
The Incestuous Soto Narratives

Researchers studying Hernando de Soto's 1539-43 journey through the Southeast have made much of the need to reconstruct the route as a whole.1 Yet no one, historian or anthropologist, has studied each of the accounts of the journey as a whole. Since no single account satisfies all the wishes of any researcher, the tendency has been to choose one account to serve as the framework for the reconstruction, adding incident and detail from the others uncritically and at will.2 That procedure is simply not historiographically sound, because each account owes specific features not to what happened, but to rhetorical purpose. In addition, and more seriously, several of the accounts borrow materials from literary tradition and possibly from one another as well. Without a clear grasp of the possibilities for interdependence, we cannot evaluate the quality of the data they make available.

I believe that there are clearly demonstrable relations of dependence among three of these accounts: André de Burgos Elvas, Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo y Valdés's Historia general de las Indias, and the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega's Florida. At best they are secondary sources, with all the problems of context and authorial intention such a remove introduces. Although a complete source study of any one of them is not my aim here, a unidirectional chain of influence can, I believe, be established among them.

The notion of intertextuality conjures up a picture of a world of texts interacting with one another, but at no time was this notion less ludicrous than in the Renaissance, which was also the Spanish Golden Age and the age of the conquest narratives with which I am concerned. The evidence of intertextual influences, however, is not disembodied, and to establish the possibility that they occurred we must understand the circumstances in which the authors composed their texts and evaluate the likelihood that any given author had access to the other text(s) whose influence on his work one is attempting to demonstrate. In this chapter I discuss several modes of intertextual influence in the accounts of Soto's expedition, the signs by which they reveal them

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