to the Central America and Mexico History page of Learning Latin America! On this page you will find a great amount of information on the events of this region from ancient times up to the early 1900s, Additionaly, at the bottom of the page there is a comprehensive lesson plan, complete with activities, just in case you would like some ideas on how you could teach your class about this topic.
By the time you are finished looking at this website, you should be able to answer the following essential questions...

1.) How did conquering peoples (Aztecs and Spanish) effect the people they conquered?
2.) What effect did the Mayan civilization have on the cultures and development of Central American countries?
3.) What caused many of the countries in this region of Latin America to gain independence in 1821?
4.) Why were the Aztecs such a successful civilization before the Spaniards arrived? Why were they defenseless against the Spanish?
5.) What motive did the Spanish have for conquering foreign lands?

external image CentralAmericaMap.jpg

There are seven countries that make up Central America and Mexico. They are: Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador. google images


external image map?id=mgwr007&pid=go

Numerous Indian civilizations rose and fell in Central America before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Mayan Civilization is the most notable civilization in Central America. The Mayas lived in southern Mexico and in present-day Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. Their written history begins in 50 BCE. They began to inscribe texts on pots, jades, bones, stone monuments, and palace walls. Records trace the history of the great kings and queens who ruled from 50 BCE until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

All Maya “long count” calendar inscriptions fall between 292 and 909 ACE. They achieved amazing architectural skills and created hieroglyphics. They discovered advanced sciences, the 365 ¼ day calendar, and complex mathematics based on stars, in addition to learning to use zero. The Mayan civilization mysteriously disappeared after the Spanish conquests of the 16th century, but no one is certain as to what lead the Mayas to the end of their amazing civilization.
1502-- "West Indies" were discovered by Christopher Columbus
1513-- Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crossed the isthmus between North America and South America
1520s-- Major Spanish conquest and settlement


There was little fighting in the 1820s. Panama was joined with Columbia while every other country united with Mexico. The short-lived Federal Republic of Central America was formed. Central America broke up into five separate nation since 1838. However, Panama remained part of Columbia until 1903 where it declared independence.
Flag of the federation, wikipedia.


Pedro de Alvarado (Spaniard) came to Guatemala in 1524. The country declared independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. The Guatemalans claimed a territory, which they named Belize after declaring independence.

The first rumblings of independence movements began to reach the Costa Ricans in the early 1800s. The people of Costa Rica had heard the news that several other regions throughout South and Central America had finally thrown off Spanish rule. They enunciated the Act of Independence on October 13, 1821. After declaring independence, citizens had to improvise a government because they were politically inexperienced. On December 1, 1821, they drafted their first charter, the Pacto de Concordia. Later, the Republic of Costa Rica was established.

Spanish conquistadores from Panama arrived in 1519. Spaniards vowed to return in search of further treasure because they found the shores of Lake Nicaragua to be densely populated by peaceful indigenous people, who gave the Spaniards much of what little gold they possessed. The settlers who founded colonies in 1524 soon discovered the area had little gold. Settlers soon took advantage of the lake's rich soils. Nicaragua became a fully independent state in 1838.

The Spanish arrived in the early 1500s. Indigenous people based their economy on the cultivation of maize, knew how to weave cloth and make clay pottery, had a system of hieroglyphic writing, and were knowledgeable about astronomy and mathematics. They remained under Spanish rule until 1821. Lack of gold attracted few Spanish settlers to the region. The people of El Salvador achieved independence on September 15, 1821.

The Mayan civilization flourished and vanished mysteriously. Mayan artists carved stone animals and human figures. They created words in gold, silver, and jade. Astronomer-priests conceived the numeral zero, developed a system of measurement and an accurate calendar. Honduras declared independence in 1821.

The people of Belize fought in a war known as George's Cay in 1798 against the Spaniards. Thousands of Mayas and mestizos migrated to the territory of Belize to escape the War of the Castes in 1847. The Mayan and mesitzos' agricultural skills helped to diversify the economy of the territory. Movement toward independence was complicated by Guatamala’s claim of the territory. Guatemala contended that the British held the area illegally. When Guatemala won its independence from Spain (1821), it also won the Spanish rights to the territory then called Belice.

Natives put up little resistance to the Spanish in 1501. The 1600s are known as the “Golden Age”. In the 1700s, Panama declined in importance to the Spanish. The country was governed as part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada after 1740. When the wars of independence broke out in Latin America in the 1800s, Panama stayed loyal to Spain. After Colombia won independence, Panama joined the Columbian union. Panama was Colombia’s most troublesome province for the next 82 years. Panama tried to break away, but each time it was brought back by military force. Fortunately, they declared independence on November 3, 1903.

Central American Independence iMovie : http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7676678540704237548


From left to right: Mayan mask of jade, ancient Mayan text, Mayan Temple in Tikal, in what is now Guatemala.
http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/maya/jade-mask.jpg, http://www.crystalinks.com/pariscodex.jpg, http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06309/735120-37.stm


A postcard depicting beautiful Costa Rica.



A Few Key Terms to Know About Mexican History

Mexico is located on the western hemisphere, under the United States touching the Gulf of Mexico on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Before the colonization and even the establishment of Mexico, or Estados Unidos Mexicanos, the area of Mexico contained some of the earliest, greatest and most advanced civilizations that we know little about today. http://go-passport.grolier.com/map?id=mgam026&pid=go

The Aztec Empire
The Aztec Empire flourished and dominated Mexico during the 15th century ACE, after the decline of the Toltec civilization. The Aztecs were a very advanced civilization and built on the success of earlier civilizations. They settled in the area of Lake Texcoco and the second Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, which is now Mexico City. Around 1430, the Aztecs’ emperor Izcóatl decided to expand his empire. By the 1500s, Izcoatl ruled and controlled a large area – about the entire central area of what is today Mexico. As the empire grew, the Aztecs instilled a strict code of society. Their society was divided into three classes. The highest was the noble class. The commoners made up the middle class. Commoners were also divided into groups: the highest group could own land where they could build their houses. The lowest group of commoners could not own property, and were farmers. The lowest social class was the slaves. Slaves were only required to work for a certain amount of time, like indentured servants. Often times slaves were prisoners of war, or those who refused to cooperate with Aztec rule after their lands were taken over. Below, right: Aztec artwork depicting warrior god. . //http://home.freeuk.net/elloughton13/images/azteccal.jpg)//

Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec god that, according to the Aztecs, brought maize to Earth. They also believed that he once walked the earth and existed as a human, but sailed off into the eastern sea. Quetzalcoatl promised to return and reclaim his throne, in a specific year on the Aztec calendar. Coincidentally, the year on the Aztec calendar was the same year on the Christian/Gregorian calendar of 1519. This was the year of Cortés’ landing in Mexico in the Yucatán Peninsula. This legendary Aztec god was said to be light skinned with a beard.
Below left: Representation of Quetzalcoatl //http://archaeology.asu.edu/tm/Media/fig38Bz.jpg//azteccirlce.png
Hernándo Cortés
Hernándo Cortés (1485-1547) was a Spanish conquistador (conqueror) that conquered the Aztec Empire. In 1511, Cortés asked an administrator named Diego Velásquez to join him on his expedition to Cuba. A few years later, Cortés went on his own expedition to Mexico from Cuba. He sailed along the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula and landed in Mexico in spring of 1519. Upon arrival, Cortés was believed to be the Aztec god, Quetzalcoatl. Because of this, the Aztecs allowed the Spaniards to wander wherever they wanted.

Tenochtitlan was the Aztec capital built on Lake Texcoco; protected against floods and well provided with food. In the heart of Tenochtitlan, there was a towering pyramid, about 200 feet high containing two towers. One tower represented the God of Sun and War and the other tower represented the God of Rain. Outlining the city were beautiful stucco homes of the emperor and the city’s priests and nobles. Around the year of 1519, Tenochtitlan was at its height. It was one of the largest cities in the world at the time, and it was about four times as large as London. Tenochtitlan controlled the area from the southern jungles of the Yucatán Peninsula to the northern deserts. This area covered over 100,000 square miles and controlled over 15 million people. Unfortunately, Tenochtitlan was also on the brink of destruction. In the time of 1519-1521, Cortés discovered this haven, which later became Mexico City. Below: Ancient Map of Tenochtitlan. //http://college.hmco.com/history/west/mosaic/chapter9/images/600.map_tenochtitlan.jpg//////


Mexican History

Mexico's prehistory began 5,000 years ago when people first began to farm and support themselves. Soon these small farming villages grew into civilizations. Some ancient Mesoamerican civilizations include: Olmec, Maya, Teotitihuacan, Zapotec, Mixtec, Toltec, and Aztecs.

The Aztec Civilization
The Aztec Civilization developed in the Central Plateu of Mexico. The Aztecs based their civilization on ideas from the Mayas of Central America. Their capital city was Tenochtitlan, today's Mexico City. To expand their empire, the Aztecs conquered many lands. By 1500 ACD one ruler controlled Tenochtitlan and 500 city-states, which were paying taxes to the government. This made Tenochtitlan one of the richest cities in Central and South America. The Aztecs accomplished a great deal in addition to wealth. They developed Socio-political organization, built pyramids and temples, created a calendar, participated in long distance trading, and educated both boys and girls in civics, history, and religion.

The Aztec's religion centered around human sacrifice, multiple gods, and priests. Priests were believed to be the guardians of the temples and recorded scientific, mathematical, and medicine-related discoveries.
The great civilization reached its height in the early 1500s ACE.
hernan.jpg1519 ACE-- Hernando Cortes of Spain landed on the coast of Mexico with the idea of conquering the Aztec Empire. Within two years, the empire had fallen to the Spanish. There were a few reasons for the fall: 1) The Aztecs thought Cortes was a god, 2) The Spanish became allies with some of the Aztecs, 3) a smallpox epidemic brought by the Spanish weakened the Aztec army. By the Mid-1500s, Spain controlled from Mexico to Peru. They called this area New Spain, and it was the first Spanish-American viceroyalty. "The Council of the Indies" made all of the new rules for the Spanish territories in Mexico and Central America.

The Spanish exploited the natives. They took lumber, cotton, sugar, and precious metals to trade and/or sell for gold, and allowed the Mexicans to buy manufactured goods (clothing and tools) from the Spanish only.
By 1550, the population of Mexico was only 6 million, a decrease of 19 million from 1519.
Hernando Cortes http://www.nndb.com/people/444/000092168/hernando-cortes-1.JPG

Life in Mexico in the 1600s
The Social systems of Spanish colonies now mirrored the class system of the Spanish. The Roman Catholic religion brought by the Spanish missionaries was now a major part of Mexican life because the Church unified the different classes.

Independence Movement
The people of Mexico saw the Americas gain their independence from the British in 1776 and the peasants revolt in the French Revolution of 1789. These among many other South and Central American fights for independence fueled Mexican desires to control their own lands once again. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon were priests who developed an independence movement from 1810-1814. Unfortunately they were captured and shot to death. Austin de Iturbide delared Mexican independence in 1821 and made himself emperor from 1821-1823. He briefly created a Mexican empire. The Mexican Constitution lasted from 1823-1833. It was based on the U.S. Constitution and made Mexico a republic. After the development of the republic, two parties emerged: the Cenralists and the Federalists. The Federalists produced a candidate named Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who became President in 1832. He continued to seize power of Mexico six times until 1855. The Mexican-American War occured from 1846-1848. During this time period, Mexico and the United States had numerous battles due to disputes over Mexico's northern border. In the end, Mexico lost land to the Americans.

After the war, came a period of reform, and new Constitution was written. In 1861 Mexico suspended payments of its foreign debts to all foreign countries. Because of this, Napolean III of France sent 40,000 French troops and an Austrian Duke (Maxmillian) to rule Mexico. Maximilian ruled from 1864-1867. He was killed by Mexicans when the French troops withdrew.

Porfirio Diaz ruled from 1876-1910. He was a dictator who introduced programs to strengthen and modernize Mexico. Under his rule, foreign countries invested in Mexico. He directed numerous projects to build railroads, developed mines (silver, copper), grow coffee and sugar crops, and created a strong police force. Before 1910, 90% of Mexicans did not own their own land. Diaz did a great deal to improve Mexico's economy.

Lesson Plan

Click the link below to get an idea of a coprehensive lesson plan the teachers of period 3 put together to teach their 9th grade class Central American and Mexican history.
external image octet-stream.png Lesson Plans.doc
Period 2's Lesson Plan


Click the link below to get your homework, due May 22. Make sure to follow the directions closely and answer the questions completely because you never know how much this worksheet might help you on teaching day (hint, hint!). Read the information on this page thoroughly and contact any one of the group members if you are having trouble with the assignment. Good luck!
external image msword.png worksheet.doc

Review Game!

To view the PowerPoint review game we will play during class, click the link below.

Aztec Achievements Activity

Click the link below that corresponds with your group number. This will allow you to access the informational sheet that will guide your group through an activity on Aztec achievements.
external image msword.png Group One.doc external image msword.png Group Two.doc external image msword.png Group Three.doc


Click the link below and answer the two short essay questions provided for you. Upon completion, please send your completed assignment to the period 3 shared work folder labled Central America & Mexico History Short Answer Assessment Hand in.
external image octet-stream.png Short Answer Assessment.doc

Thank you for visiting the Central America and Mexico History page of Learning Latin America! Hopefully you have learned a lot!

Works Cited

Aguilar, Ernesto Chinchilla. "Guatemala." Lands and Peoples. 2007. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://lp.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=4066700.

Ashcraft, Norman. "Belize." Lands and Peoples. 2007. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://lp.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=4065500.

"Aztec Calendar - Sun Stone." Aztec Calendar. 21 May 2007 http://www.crystalinks.com/aztecalendar.html.

"Central America." Cartoon. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007

Conniff, Michael L. "Panama." The New Book of Knowledge®. 2007. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://nbk.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=a2022290-h.

Durón, Jorge Fidel. "Honduras." Lands and Peoples. 2007. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://lp.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=4066900.

Figueres Ferrer, José. "Costa Rica." Lands and Peoples. 2007. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://lp.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=4066000.

Gall, Timothy L. "Mexicans." Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life . Ed. Gall L. Timothy. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1998. 299-301.
Lee, Alex, James Arndt, and Shane Goldmacher. "Aztec Architecture."
     __Architecture Through the Ages__. Think Quest. 21 May 2007

"Mexico." Cartoon. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://go.grolier.com/.

Millett, Richard. "Central America." Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. 2007. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://gme.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=0056450-0.

"Religious Beliefs." __The Ancient Aztecs__. Aug. 1999. Think Quest. 21 May 2007

Snaden, James N. "El Salvador." Lands and Peoples. 2007. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://lp.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=4066300.

Snaden, James N. "Nicaragua." Lands and Peoples//. 2007. Grolier Online. 8 May 2007 http://lp.grolier.com/cgi-bin/article?assetid=4067000.

Tenenbaum, Barbara A. "Mestizo." Latin American History and Culture . Ed. Patricia Seed. Vol. 4. New York: Simon-Charles Scribner's Sons, 1996. 1.