Paul E. Hoffman


The sixteenth-century history of what the Spaniards called La Florida (roughly the entire Southeastern United States)1 starts with what to us is a mystery and ends nearly as obscurely after passing a number of well-known and oft-narrated episodes of exploration, Pedro Menendez de Aviles' founding of an enduring colony as part of the Franco-Spanish "cold war" of 1559-1593, the martyrdoms of Jesuit and then Franciscan missionaries (1571; 1597 respectively), and finally territorial rivalries as the English began their colonial ventures in eastern North America. Until the 1950s, the historiography of these well-known episodes generally reflected the interests of lay, clerical and professional historians and the shifting historiographical trends of the larger profession as it moved from the mid-nineteenth-century Romantic interest in "heroes" like Hernando De Soto to institutional history (notably the missions) and then to topics from the later centuries of La Florida's history associated in some way with the history of the United States.2 Much of this work remains of value because it is solidly based in archival sources but there is relatively little of it because few United States or Spanish scholars paid much attention to La Florida. However, beginning in the 1960s the familiar episodes again attracted attention from historians like Albert Manucy, Michael V. Gannon, Eugene Lyon, Jerald Milanich, Arny Turner Bushnell, John Worth, Jr., Michael Francis, Daniel Murphree and your author. These writers use an expanded base of original sources, evidence from historical archaeology, some social-scientific models and ideas, and contextual knowledge of the Spanish empire as a whole. Although not tracking precisely the larger trends of the profession in the late twentieth century-in particular its emphasis on social history-the historical writing of the post 1965 period did begin to develop that story, as well as the colony's economic history, and interaction with Native Americans. All are more difficult to document than the old "standards." And even for the "standard" stories, some mysteries remain and many details are still silent in the archives. What follows is an indication of the best current scholarship on these topics, and comments on what remains to be fully studied. We begin with bibliographic guides.