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

By Patricia Galloway | Go to book overview

Introduction

In the press to learn new things about where Hernando de Soto went in time to commemorate his having gone there, most recent scholarship on the Florida expedition has ignored a good number of historiographical issues that have never been resolved. Most crucially, we still do not possess critical modern editions, in their language of origin, of the expedition's key documentary texts. The present volume cannot fill that lack, but we hope it will do the next best thing: make it clear that further progress cannot be made without the availability of such editions and without the serious reconsideration of the historiographical issues that the undertaking of such a task will raise.

These chapters are divided into several thematic groups. The essays in Part 1, "The Sources," examine the critical questions raised by the major sources. In her chapter Ida Altman definitively situates Hernández de Biedma's account, discussing both Biedma's charge with respect to the expedition and the nature of his account as a document. I examine the production process of the major narratives, of Oviedo, "Elvas," and the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, to question possibly unrecognized intertextuality. Ivana and Martin Elbl delve into the context and internal references of the Gentleman of Elvas's tale in an effort to uncover its source, while also bringing to light the historical context in which it was composed. Lee Dowling reviews the evidence for Garcilaso's literary sources and the value of La Florida as a historical document for Garcilaso's life. Finally, David Henige reviews the historiography of Garcilaso's work and the important question of its standards of truth.

These chapters all reflect the strong turn to close textual analysis that modern historiography has taken. As a group, they do not deny the historical significance of the Soto histories, but they do argue that these texts tell us as much or more about their authors and the contexts in which they were written as they do about actual expedition events. Heretofore, there has been a naive tendency to accept the written accounts of Soto's expedition at face value, to assume that their authors were eyewitnesses or were informed by eyewitnesses who were themselves honest testators to their experience. Yet, in

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