Cabeza de Vaca Essay

This short essay  (750-1000 words) asks you to apply critical thinking skills to one of the central tasks of any liberal arts student: the consideration of how a primary source author’s point-of-view shapes how he or she makes sense of the world.  You will develop your skills in interpreting complex texts, constructing an argument supported with specific evidence, critiquing multiple perspectives, and communicating your ideas clearly.

Central Questions:

  1. How does Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca depict his encounters with the peoples and environment of the American Southwest in his first hand account of his participation in the Narváez Expedition? How does it reflect his point of view?  His attempts to make sense of his new environment? (You will narrow your interpretation to focus on a single theme, whether economics, environment, culture, faith, or gender).
  2. How does your interpretation of the Cabeza de Vaca’s writing engage with that of historian Andrés Reséndez’s arguments in A Land So Strange?

Approaching the project:

Think carefully about the questions I’ve asked you to address.  You don’t have to answer them in this order, or give equal space to each, but you should address them explicitly in your essay.

You may choose any of the short excerpts from Cabeza de Vaca’s text I’ve posted in our additional readings page.  I’ve grouped them by theme (economic exchanges, daily live, environment, gender & family relations, etc.) to make it easy for you to find a section of the primary source that interests you.  Sign up for your choice on Moodle.

Your essay should not be a mere summation of the contents of Cabeza de Vaca’s writing, but rather an argument about how to interpret Cabeza de Vaca’s depictions of North America (considering CdV’s perspective, rhetorical intent, audience, the creator’s mindset, and historical context) and concrete evidence to support your interpretation.

Think about the models in They Say, I Say for showing how your writing contributes to a large discussion.  What parts of Reséndez’s argument will you address?  What strategies can you use to show what he argues versus what you argue?  How will you differentiate what Cabeza de Vaca says from what you think it means?


  • Culture & Hospitality: Joseph, Jonah, Cesar
  • Family & Marriage: Camryn & Kyrsten
  • Warfare & Combat: Bryce & Tanaka
  • Environment: Brooks, Maya, & Will
  • Economics & Trade: Martin, Kanishk, & Keira
  • Health & Illness: Maggie & Michael


  • Select your thematic focus (and primary source excerpt) by Friday, September 1.
  • Blog Post: Paraphrasing Reséndez pre-writing due on September 5.
  • Writing Center Workshop on Outlining and Mapping on September 8.
  • Peer review of your full rough draft in class on September 11.
  • Upload your revised essay as a .pdf by 10pm on Wednesday, September 13.


In grading this assignment, I will consider the strength of your critical analysis as well as your writing ability.  You essay must be well organized, concise, and clearly written.  I encourage all of you to take advantage of the Writing Center’s excellent feedback at any stage in the writing process.



  • Make sure that your list of works cited (bibliography) at the end of the essay.  This does not count towards your word count.
  • Essays should be 750-1000 words.  Do not exceed the word limit!
  • As always, all sources must be correctly cited using Chicago style formatting (footnotes).
  • Upload your essay to Moodle as a pdf by 10pm on Wednesday, September 13.
  • This assignment is worth 10% of your grade.


You’ll just need to add the appropriate page numbers for your chosen evidence.  You use footnotes for every quote, paraphrase, or summary in your essay (numbered sequentially), and list the bibliography at the end.

Cabeza de Vaca Primary Sources

Footnote citation (and the shortened version you can after the first full citation):

  1. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca, ed. and trans. by Rolena Adorno and Patrick Charles Pautz, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), PAGE.
  2. Cabeza de Vaca, Narrative, PAGE.

Bibliography citation:

Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Álvar.  The Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca.  Edited and translated by Rolena Adorno and Patrick Charles Pautz.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

A Land So Strange

Footnote citation (and the shortened version you can after the first full citation):

  1. Andrés Reséndez, A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca (New York: Basic Books, 2009), PAGE.
  2. Reséndez, A Land So Strange, PAGE.

Bibliography citation:

Reséndez, Andrés.  A Land So Strange: The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca.  New York: Basic Books, 2009.