Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Brian Swenson


The Age of Discovery travel narratives from the fifteenth and sixteenth century, written by European explorers to the Americas, can be understood not only as narratives, but also as literary maps of the New World. Specifically, Hernán Cortés’s Second Letter in Cartas de Relación exemplifies the ways in which literary cartography helped write the Americas into existence in Europe. Cortés’s map does not reproduce the land he encounters, it creates the space known as America. His letters become a map in three ways. First, Cortés deliberately included descriptions of features of the land and natives that would impress the Christian Spanish King, Charles V, who funded his voyage and was seeking to establish an empire in the New World. Second, Cortés mapped out the space around him in an attempt to make sense of the foreign land, creating a cultural viewpoint through which the space was then seen. Last, Cortés used his literary map as a vehicle through which he exhibited power over the conquered space and people. Cartas de Relación is not merely a collection of informative letters, but rather, a map of the New World that brought the Americas into existence in the West. Cortés did not discover the actual space of the Americas, but, through his literary map, he helped to create the New World as a place to be dominated, colonized, and claimed for European empires. The map of the Americas that Cortés produced is ideological and limited in its perspective. It also exerts unprecedented power over the land by writing it into existence as property of the Spanish empire. The Americas are thus erased of their history, culture, and peoples, and instead become regarded as an uncivilized and savage society that desperately needs to be conquered. This image of the Americas, as a space rightly entitled to the Europeans, will continue to shape the political and social actions of white men for several centuries after the Age of Discovery.