History of chocolate analysis

Primary Source Analysis Assignment #1 (worth 10%)

This assignment will ask you to think like a historian. You will be asked to analyse evidence from the past (primary sources) in order to form conclusions. To do this assignment well you will need to be creative and think critically.

Choose ONE (1) of the analyses projects below (either A or B). Consider carefully the primary source images or document excerpts presented and write a response to each question. You may use the textbook readings to help provide further context.


  1. Compose your Analysis as a Microsoft Word file, 12 pt. Times New Roman font.
  2. Include your name and student number at the top of the page.
  3. Submit your Analysis into the Analysis #1 Dropbox by the posted deadline.

You should also refer to the corresponding Rubric in the Orientation Module for information on how this assignment will be evaluated.

CHOICE A: Images of Native Americans in Florida

Source: “The Mourning Widows” by Theodore de Bry (1591 CE)


Source Background

In 1591 Dutch engraver and goldsmith Theodor de Bry published Grand Voyages, which contained the earliest known European images of Native Americans in what is now Florida. Although Theodor de Bry never traveled to the Americas, the images he created helped to shape the European perception of Native American cultures and the land they inhabited.

For Grand Voyages and later publications de Bry relied on accounts by men like Jacques Le Moyne de Morgues, a member of the short-lived French colony in Florida, Fort Caroline. This engraving was based on an original (now lost) sketch by Le Moyne.

Translation of Latin Text

Ceremonies of Women Mourning for their Deceased Husbands

After arriving at their husbands’ burial place, in memory of these brave men they cut their hair below their ears and scatter it on the graves where they have already thrown their husbands’ shell drinking-cups and weapons. Then they return home, but are forbidden to remarry until their hair has regrown long enough to cover their shoulders. They also let their toe and finger nails grow, filing the sides to make them pointed. But it is above all the men who practice this custom. Whenever they can grab hold of an enemy, they sink their nails deep into his forehead and tear the skin, leaving him blinded and bloody.

Analysis Questions

Write at least 1 full paragraph (5-6 sentences) per question.

  1. Do you think that the image gives an accurate impression of native life? If so, why? If not, why not?
  2. How would our analysis change if the original sketch by Jacques Le Moyne survived?
  3. What was the intended audience for this image? How might the audience’s expectations influence the artist?


CHOICE B: Images and Document excerpts about Mayan Society

Source 1: Excerpt from a Spanish manuscript letter about the Maya, 1595 CE

The form of the marriage is: the bride gives the bridegroom a small stool painted in colors, and also gives him five grains of cacao, and says to him, “These I give thee as a sign that I accept thee as my husband.” And he also gives her some new skirts and another five grains of cacao, saying the same thing.

Excerpted from: J. Eric Thompson, “Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Reports on the Chol Mayas,” American Anthropologist 40 (1938): 602.

Source 2: Excerpt from the Popul Vuh, creation myth of the Maya

We will now return to the story of man’s creation by the Creators and Makers Tepew and Q’uk’umatz.

“The time for the first dawn has arrived, and we must complete our creation. Let man and all of humanity appear on the earth’s surface. Humankind will give us our sustenance,” they said. They came together in the darkness to think and reflect. This is how they came to decide on the right material for the creation of man. They had to hurry because there was little time left before the sun, the moon and the stars would appear in the sky. The corn used to create the first men was found in the place called Paxil and K’ayala’. Yak the wildcat, Utiw the coyote, K’el the parrot, and Joj the crow were the creatures who discovered this food. They were the ones who showed the way to Paxil so that the corn could be brought back. And that is how the beautiful place where abundant white and yellow corn grew was discovered. All kinds of fruits and seeds, including beans, cacao, zapote, anona, wild plums, nance, white zapote and honey were also to be found in Paxil and K’ayala’.

Victor Montejo, Popol Vuh: Sacred Book of the Maya, trans. David Unger (Toronto: Groundwood Books/Douglas & McIntyre, 1999), 61.

Source 3: Detail of a palace scene on a Late Classic Maya Vase  (circa 800-900 CE)

Source Background

Maya civilization produced a rich artistic culture and legacy. Vases such as this one were used to serve food and drink at important royal banquets. Archaeologists Dorie Reents-Budet and Ronald Bishop describe their importance in Maya culture:

The vases, used both to serve food at feasts and as gifts presented at such events, were created by highly skilled painters who had mastered the intricacies of Classic Maya religious mythology, ideology, and history, and used hieroglyphic writing as both communication and visual poetry. Artists were highly regarded and often members of elite families. These vessels are rich repositories of data concerning Classic Maya culture and royalty and provide intimate views of palace life. They depict the decorations that would have adorned the now-bare stone palace buildings found at most Maya sites, and the perishable interior furnishings that do not survive in the archaeological record: curtains and throne covers of cloth and jaguar pelt; containers of ceramic, gourd, wood, and basketry; books; regal costumes; and musical instruments and scented wood torches that added to the auditory and aromatic atmosphere of the court. Also recorded on them are ancient myths and epic tales, which often survive nowhere else.

Excerpted from: Dorie Reents-Budet and Ronald Bishop, “What Can We Learn from a Maya Vase?” Archaeology 56:2 (2003).

This particular vase which was discovered at an archaeological site in the Petén Lowlands, depicts a ruler gesturing towards a pot of foaming chocolate. There is a plate heaped with sauce-covered tamales (a starchy traditional Mesoamerican dish made with corn dough) below him.

Analysis Question:

To answer this question, write at least three full paragraphs (5-6 sentences each).

  1. What role did cacao play in the lives of the Maya? Explain your answer citing all the documents.

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