Travel back in time to the recent past and explore the OUPblog’s top 10 history blog posts of 2021. From dispelling Euro-centric myths of the Aztec empire to considering humanity’s future through the lens of environmental history, think outside the box with the latest research and expert insights from the Press’s history authors.
1. Native conquistadors: the role of Tlaxcala in the fall of the Aztec empire
The Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica, leading to the collapse of the Aztec empire, would have been impossible were it not for the assistance provided by various groups of Native allies who sensed the opportunity to upend the existing geopolitical order to something they thought would be to their advantage. No group was more critical to these alliances than the Tlaxcaltecs.
In this blog post, David M. Carballo, author of Collision of Worlds: A Deep History of the Fall of Aztec Mexico and the Forging of New Spain, explores the history of the Tlaxcaltecs to dispel long-held Eurocentric narratives of the “conquest of Mexico.”
2. Thirteen new French history books [reading list]
Bastille Day is a French national holiday, marking the storming of the Bastille—a military fortress and prison—on 14 July 1789, in an uprising that helped usher in the French Revolution. In the lead up to the anniversary of Bastille day, we shared some of the latest French history titles for you to explore, share, and enjoy.
3. Seven new books on environmental history [reading list]
The reciprocal relationship between humanity and nature may define the future of our life on this planet, but it is also an inescapable force in our history. To discover how the natural world has impacted the course of history, explore these seven new titles on environmental history.
4. The three greatest myths of the Fall of Tenochtitlán
13 August 2021 marks the moment, exactly five hundred years ago, when Spanish conquistadors won the battle for Tenochtitlán, completing their astonishing conquest of the Aztec Empire, initiating the three-century colonial era of New Spain. At least, that is the summary of the event that has since predominated.
In recent decades, scholars have developed increasingly informed and complex understandings of the so-called Conquest, and opinions in Mexico itself have become ever more varied and sophisticated.
Read more from Matthew Restall, author of Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, as he seeks to dispel the three greatest myths of the Fall of Tenochtitlán.
5. Mapping the great battles [interactive map]
Certain battles acquire iconic status in history. The victors have been celebrated as heroes for centuries, the vanquished serve as a cautionary tale for all, and nations use these triumphs to establish their founding myths.
In this interactive map, you can explore the legacy of 10 key battles dating back to 480 BC through World War II. Each battle is featured in our Great Battles collection, a growing series telling the story of some of the world’s most iconic battles.
6. Mexican independence from Spain and the first Mexican emperor
Mexico had been battling its way towards independence from Spain for some years when, in 1820, the Mexican-born officer, Agustín de Iturbide y Arámburu, proclaimed a new rebellion on behalf of what he called the Plan of Iguala. This called for Mexican independence, a constitutional monarchy with the Spanish king or another member of the Bourbon dynasty at its head, the Catholic religion as the only religion of Mexico, and the unity of all inhabitants, no matter what their origin, ethnicity, or social class.
In this blog post, Professor Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, author of Projecting Imperial Power, details the rise and fall of Agustín de Iturbide y Arámburu, the first Mexican emperor, and his part in Mexican independence from Spain.
7. Black History Month: celebrating 10 people who made British history
Observing UK Black History Month in 2021, we curated a collection of Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles exploring the lives of people of Black/African descent who had an impact on, or a connection to, the UK during their lifetime and the ways in which they made history – from Gustavus Vassa to Beryl Agatha Gilroy to Jimi Hendrix.
8. The kings of Prussia become German emperors and Berlin becomes an imperial city
On 16 June 1871 the Prussian army, 42,000 strong, entered Berlin in triumph. Wilhelm I, King of Prussia, had been proclaimed German Emperor five months before in Versailles. Painted canvases lined the army’s route, on one of which was depicted the myth of Emperor Barbarossa. He was said to have been asleep for 700 years inside the Kyffhäuser mountain with his red beard growing down through the table he was sitting at, waiting for the time when he could awake. Ravens circling overhead indicated the site of his long slumber. He could now arise, since his empire had been founded anew by Prussia.
Learn more about this moment in Prussian history from Professor Helen Watanabe-O’Kelly, author of Projecting Imperial Power.
9. Archaeology, architecture, and “Romanizing” Athens
The question of whether Athens was a Greek or Roman city seems straightforward, but among scholars there is some debate.
Read the blog post by Ian Worthington, author of Athens After Empire, for an analysis of the archaeological evidence that might provide an answer to this enduring scholarly question.
10. Beyond history and identity: what else can we learn from the past?
History is important to collective identity in the same way that memory is important to our sense of ourselves. It is difficult to explain who we are without reference to our past: place and date of birth, class background, education, and so on. A shared history can, by the same token, give us a shared identity—to be a Manchester United fan is to have a particular relationship to the Munich air disaster, the Busby babes, George Best, Eric Cantona, and so on.
Read the blog post from Michael Braddick, author of A Useful History of Britain, to consider the roles shared experience and personal memories play in establishing our cultural identities – and the challenges this can bring.