Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Vanessa Knights Memorial Lecture 2018

The Day The World Changed: Montezuma, Cortés, and One of History's Greatest Lies

Report from Clare Brewster, Senior lecturer in Latin American History 

The Vanessa Knights Memorial Lecture took place on 15 March 2018. As those of us who knew her are aware, Vanessa Knights had extraordinary energy, wit, charm and intellect. It was entirely appropriate therefore, that Matthew Restall, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Colonial Latin American History at Penn State University, was invited to speak on this occasion. Having used Restall’s extensive publications in my teaching for many years I felt honoured (and, it must be said a little star-struck) to introduce him. His lecture drew on his latest book, When Montezuma Met Cortés, in which Restall re-examines the “meeting” to provide a comprehensive re-evaluation of the characters of both Cortés and Moctezuma. Drawing on a vast variety of sources, Restall also explored Cortés’s and Moctezuma’s posthumous reputations and the worlds in which they lived. The result was a highly-intelligent, thought-provoking, yet entirely comprehensible account of this pivotal moment in modern civilisation. It was heartening to see that the large audience included several undergraduate students. After giving his paper, Restall’s energy and intellect were tested in a variety of questions, which he continued to answer throughout the drinks reception and during the meal at Blackfriars that followed. Restall’s charm and wit were evident in his interactions with the undergraduates, whom he naturally put at ease even though he may have disappointed them by dispelling some of the accepted “facts” about Aztec history.