Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Dr. Pablo Pastrana-Pérez

Second Advisor

Dr. Catherine J. Julien

Third Advisor

Dr. Robert Felkel

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Natalio Ohanna


Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca remains one of the most enigmatic and problematic figures of early American exploration. This thesis undertakes a close analysis of four central documents relating to his lesser-known but important governorship of the Rio de la Plata province from 1540 to 1545, and delves into its study with a blend of philological and historiographical approaches. After an initial chapter devoted to the discussion of discursive types and genres, grouped in the broad categories of historiographical, legal and literary, a separate chapter is devoted to each of the larger narratives, namely the Relación general or General Account of 1545, signed and attributed to Cabeza de Vaca, and the Comentarios or Commentaries of 1555, assigned to his notary, Pedro Hernández. The fourth chapter is dedicated to the analysis of the remaining two documents, namely, an unedited letter by Cabeza de Vaca to the emperor Charles V written from the Azores, and an Account by Pedro Hernandez, both written in 1545.

Using this documentary evidence, this thesis proposes the study of writing at the zenith of conquest and territorial expansion as an integral part of the struggle for power and domination. As new genres and discursive structures emerge, the audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, from the ruling elite to the wider public, are given the tools to understand and shape the new spheres of public life. Writing becomes a powerful too! in the shaping of a new reality, and as such, it must be studied with extreme care, so that a modern reader is able to discern where history ends and fiction or manipulation of history begin. The contact and constant negotiations for power between the two worlds cause a restructuring of the old discursive parameters by which the old continent was measured. New and richer discursive types emerged that will reveal the realities and tensions of the acts of conquest and settlement. The emergence of new political, legal, ideological and economic structures come hand in hand with the development of new narrative structures, shaped by the aspirations of both conquerors and chroniclers.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Campus Only