Book report on Resilient Cultures by John Kicza – Term Paper


This report is based on the book “Resilient Cultures” by John Kicza. The book was published by Prentice Hall and is copyrighted 2003 by the publisher. I selected this book after finding the title to be particularly interesting. I was also captivated by the idea that the book did touch on Maya culture, a subject that is of interest to me. I found this book to be interesting, as it tends to refute much of what I have known about early histories of the Americas.

Book Summary

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The book presents a comparative view of the effects of European colonisation between 1500 and 1800 on the Native Americans. Kicza (2003) discusses the nature of the indigenous cultures before they were colonised by the Europeans before it attends to the effects of the colonisation. It pays particular attention to changes in the environment, the armed conflicts, gradual demographic changes, in addition to the significance of economic exchanges.

Book review

It appears that Kicza was particularly interested in making compelling comparisons of the European encounters over the expansive lands of America. This is the reason the author classifies the indigenous cultures rooted in their methods of agricultural production and the consequent nature of societies. The book is based on Kicza’s theory of cultural resiliency, which also forms the book’s underlying argument. The theory contends that although the cultures of the Americas were decimated, they did change minimally as a result of the European colonisation, they did eventually survive.

From Kicza’s book, I observed that although the cultures in the Americas are greatly diverse and consists of many diverse empires and societies, they were resilient in their encounter with the Europeans. Indeed, a particular culture that helps build the theory of resiliency suggested by Kicza, is the Maya. While European colonisation attempted to change the civilisation, Mayans managed to maintain much of the cultural identities. For instance, at the time the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico was colonised by the Spanish in the mid-1500s, Mayan cultures had advanced from being sedentary, hugely populated and a much-sophisticated society to becoming semi-sedentary village society (Kiczaa, n.d.). The Mayans were among the very first cultures to have had a writing system, use of sophisticated astronomy and math, as well as engaged in a complex and in-depth religion. The Mayans were largely a solid culture. The Spanish colonisation did not significantly affect Mayan culture, which showed much resilience.

However, it is possible to argue that Kicza’s theory of “resiliency” is not without flaws or loopholes as he may have assumed. This is particularly so when it comes to the Aztec culture. Kicza asserts that despite extreme conditions, such as what the Aztecs experienced, native cultures could still maintain certain unique ethnic identities. However, in reading the book, I come to a conclusion that maintaining unique ethnic identities can be difficult when an entire culture becomes wiped out. Just like the Mayans, the Aztec Empires consisted of a huge population that spread across Mexico. Originally, they were nomads by nature, although they shifted to sedentary lands to become semi-sedentary. The Spanish colonised the Aztec in 1500, before full conquest in 1521 that led to the demise of the empire of South America.

The theory of “resilient” culture does not seem to apply when it comes to the Aztec cultures. Infections from smallpox almost wiped out the entire Aztec population, leading to a demise of their cultures. The Spanish also banned the transferring Aztec traditions and practices. This led to cultural isolation and eventual demise.

As a result, therefore, Kicza attempts to show how cultures of the Americans survived with the minimal demise of traditional identities. However, in the face of his great efforts, it is possible to argue that his concept of “cultural resiliency” may not have been the description he sought, as not all cultures were resilient. The Aztec cultures, for instance, faced the threat of being wiped out after the Spanish colonisation. It would have been appropriate for Kicza to use the term “durable cultures” instead of “resilient cultures.” Indeed, while these cultures were adaptive, they faced the risk of being wiped out completely, depending on environmental factors like diseases or natural disasters and the colonial policies. However, the idea that certain cultures, like the Mayan cultures, managed to survive, until the early years of the 1800s does show that his concept of resilient culture is valid.

Final thoughts

I did find this book specifically helpful. The book has a vast knowledge regarding the histories of the cultures of the Americas and how they changed or resisted change over time as a result of the European colonisation. It provides perspectives into the nature of the indigenous cultures before they were colonised by the Europeans and compares them with the effects of the colonisation. The book is intelligently written and well researched. I found the book to be interesting and informative.


Kicza, J. (2003). Resilient Cultures: America’s native peoples confront european colonizaton, 1500-1800. New York: Prentice Hall

Kiczaa, J. (n.d.). Resilient Cultures – A new understanding of the New World. Retrieved: ;;