I’ve been rereading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell recently. For that reason, I perceive success in a very different way that I did prior to me reading his book. The truth is that, hidden in the fabrics of our society are many elements that constitute our success in various different ways. Individual merit has a threshold.
With that in mind, I think that many of us can agree that the determining component of the outcome of the Spanish Conquistadors and Native American contact was Spain’s economic and political power at that time. Despite that, I would like to argue – with my Gladwellian outlook towards the community around me – that a closer analysis can explain that the central element of the Conquistadors’ apparent ease in these territories was Spain’s invincible craftwork.
For me, it’s amazing how they pulled that off. It’s one of the primary examples provided when studying other events which relied on the tools that were used. A trademark example is that of David and Goliath – also made famous by Gladwell’s view. Instead of being that classic underdog story of the individual that defeats the unimaginable, it is one that analyzes how the tools that were used effectively guaranteed David’s victory.
In specificity to the Spaniards, I believe that the outcomes of the contact established between the Conquistadors and the Indigenous Americans were led not only by the nation’s diplomatic potential but mostly by other relevant but disregarded factors, such as craftsmanship. This aspect might have been what truly shaped what Columbus would later represent for their development – the Santa María ship. In other words, the Conquistadors’ voyages to the West reflects their excellence in craftwork. And these same expeditions later established the expansion of mercantilism and civilization throughout the Occident. Without their great ships, for example, their team wouldn’t have conquered and intimidated the yet unknown lands. Historian William Phillips has explained, in The Worlds of Christopher Columbus, that
Contemporary anecdotes [were found] written down by one or more of Columbus’s crew members, and contemporary Spanish and Portuguese shipwrecks from the late 15th and early 16th centuries [as well], which are comparable in size to that of Santa María.
Although many of these sources are now extinct, it is logical to affirm that they were willing to record every critical attribute regarding their work.
Further research can point out how, in Old Spain, an individual’s work in craft could determine their status in society. There’s this great book called Conflict in the Early Americas which states that
The primary way to acquire the status of a noble was to be born within a noble family. Nonetheless, some mobility was provided through accrued merits in the military, commercial, craftwork, and priestly classes, thus allowing for some commoners to ascend to the rank of nobility.
This ranking is representative of how Spanish societies would encourage craftwork within their nation as a means of upgrading one’s position (and nobility) in a community. Ultimately, Spain had an unconquerable commitment to projects that belonged to the realm of craft and construction, which led to an event that would later shape the civilizations of the 21st century.
The different consequences of this event, however – such as the growth of civilization throughout the Occident, the expansion of mercantilism, and the unfortunate advance of Native American enslavement – are entirely neglected when the matter of the source and motivation behind them are brought up. Which makes us ask ourselves: was all of that worth it?