Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Humanities and Cultural Studies

Major Professor

J. Michael Francis, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Frances Ramos, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Brian Connolly, Ph.D.


Archive, Prosopography, Conquistador, Florida


Over the course of the last century, Fernando de Soto’s conquest of Florida has been a central topic of debate among scholars of the United States. In particular, the written sources generated by expedition members during and after their time in Florida have been used primarily by archaeologists and anthropologists for ethnohistoric data on Native American societies in the early-sixteenth century southeast. However, there are two central problems in the historiography that have plagued the field of Soto studies, both of which are the central focuses of this study. First, there has never been a full-length historical study conducted on the expedition, meaning that historians have failed to provide a contextualizing analysis of Soto and his over seven hundred followers within the broader field of conquest history. Second, archaeologists, anthropologists, and amateur historians alike have primarily focused on four accounts when gathering information about the expedition, its time spent in Florida, and the interactions its members had with Native Americans. Additionally, the historical veracity of these four sources have received increasing criticism from scholars over the past three decades.By introducing a large body primary archival sources related to the expedition, the study accomplishes two main goals. First, utilizing a variety of documentary sources in conjunction with the four popular accounts – known collectively as the “chronicles” – the study lays out a prosopographic analysis of the over seven hundred men, women, and children that journeyed to Florida. Called into question are social characteristics of the group such as places of origin, age, sex, race, social class, education level, and post-Florida experiences of the expedition’s members. Such an analysis portrays a sketch of the entire expedition hitherto unexplored in the historiography, and allows one to deconstruct the misguided stereotypical interpretations of Soto and his followers prevalent in many past studies. On a larger scale, a comparison between the social make-up of the expedition with other ventures from the same period allows one to observe broader social patterns in Spain’s conquest enterprise during the sixteenth century. For example, even though many past studies have emphasized that most Spanish migrants in the early colonial period came from Andalusia, Soto’s expedition, along with other colonial ventures, reenforce the notion that many explorers during the period also hailed from Extremadura. In another vein, the same comparison demonstrates that the most common regional origin of explorers on each venture typically mirrored that of the expedition’s leader. Therefore, what comes into focus are the local kinship networks within Spain that facilitated the recruitment of participants for each conquest expedition. Second, the study shifts more to an evaluation of the primary sources related to Soto’s conquista. What is emphasized is that an incorporation of the larger body of archival sources into an analysis of the expedition not only introduces new voices with which to better understand the Florida venture. It also allows for an evaluation of the historical credibility of the four chronicles by comparing their contents to the information found in archival documents. Overall, what is stressed is not only the essential need for scholars in the future to incorporate the documentary source material into studies on the expedition. The study further reveals that the four chronicles, some of which have been dubbed as pseudohistories by past historians, each merit significant historical value and are essential sources to utilize when examining the Florida venture.

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