This lecture looks at the continuing presence of the culture, buildings, and peoples of the Americas within the continent from the moment of conquest, throughout the repeated attempts at erasure, and in the present. We start with the moment of encounter and conquest, with the arrival of the Spanish to Tenochtitlán and examine the ruins of the city lying beneath contemporary Mexico City. We then go to Cusco and to the multiple layers within the Coricancha or temple of the sun. We then focus on the erasure of these cultures, particularly in the period after independence from European rule. We revisit the mounds of the peoples that lived in the Mississippi delta as they stand today, and learn of the politics involved in their destruction. Taking these politics of eradication into account, we shift to the wars waged against the Native peoples in North and South America throughout the 19th century. We conclude with the persistent presence of these peoples today, and the changing perceptions of their architecture from living structures to so-called “ancient” artifacts. The arrival of the first Europeans prompted widespread disease that killed off nearly 90% of the population of the American continent. The spread of disease was so rapid that some cultures disappeared even before they themselves encountered the Europeans. There is a good deal of debate about the specifics of this terrible loss of life and culture, but the basic parameters are not in dispute. This abrupt decimation of the population has led to the false impression that the continent was mostly empty—a blank slate ready for conquest and colonization. My lecture today will argue not only for the presence of the peoples of the Americas at the moment of arrival, but for their continued presence in the life and buildings of the continent today.
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