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1492 - Columbus in American Memory (redirected from Columbus 1492)

Page history last edited by Mr. Hengsterman 7 years, 5 months ago




Columbus reports on his first voyage, 1493


I have determined to write you this letter to inform you of everything that has been done and discovered in this voyage of mine.


On the thirty-third day after leaving Cadiz I came into the Indian Sea, where I discovered many islands inhabited by numerous people. I took possession of all of them for our most fortunate King by making public proclamation and unfurling his standard, no one making any resistance. The island called Juana, as well as the others in its neighborhood, is exceedingly fertile. It has numerous harbors on all sides, very safe and wide, above comparison with any I have ever seen. Through it flow many very broad and health-giving rivers; and there are in it numerous very lofty mountains. All these island are very beautiful, and of quite different shapes; easy to be traversed, and full of the greatest variety of trees reaching to the stars. . . .


In the island, which I have said before was called Hispana, there are very lofty and beautiful mountains, great farms, groves and fields, most fertile both for cultivation and for pasturage, and well adapted for constructing buildings. The convenience of the harbors in this island, and the excellence of the rivers, in volume and salubrity, surpass human belief, unless on should see them. In it the trees, pasture-lands and fruits different much from those of Juana. Besides, this Hispana abounds in various kinds of species, gold and metals. The inhabitants . . . are all, as I said before, unprovided with any sort of iron, and they are destitute of arms, which are entirely unknown to them, and for which they are not adapted; not on account of any bodily deformity, for they are well made, but because they are timid and full of terror. . . . But when they see that they are safe, and all fear is banished, they are very guileless and honest, and very liberal of all they have. No one refuses the asker anything that he possesses; on the contrary they themselves invite us to ask for it. They manifest the greatest affection towards all of us, exchanging valuable things for trifles, content with the very least thing or nothing at all. . . . I gave them many beautiful and pleasing things, which I had brought with me, for no return whatever, in order to win their affection, and that they might become Christians and inclined to love our King and Queen and Princes and all the people of Spain; and that they might be eager to search for and gather and give to us what they abound in and we greatly need.












1492 - Columbus in American Memory

Was he a genius, a tyrant, or both?


 Q? Why does Columbus loom so much larger in our national mythology than these Spanish guys? After all, they actually made it to our land mass.


What Columbus did was bring the continents back together. He recreated Pangaea, in effect, and as a result, huge numbers and plants and animals from over there came over here, and huge numbers of plants and animals from over here came over there, and there was a tremendous ecological convulsion, the greatest event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs.


Columbus returns to Spain with parrots and jewelry and other interesting items from his voyage, including about 10 natives, and is commissioned to embark on a second voyage with an enormous fleet and 1,200 men


Great mariner and navigator. But he was hopeless on land and very poor as an administrator.


At one point, he even decides that the world isn’t round. He thinks he’s sailing uphill, and that the world is actually shaped more like a pear with a nipple where he thinks the Garden of Eden lies.





The first person who really made a very clearly human Columbia was Phillis Wheatley, who was a well known poet at the time of the Revolution.


And what was really striking about her is that she was a former slave. She’d come to America as a child and was enslaved. She was named after the slave ship she was brought on in 1761, The Phillis. And she lived with the Wheatleys in Boston originally, and was taught English by them, was taught to read and write, and became quite a well known poet in her time.

Where she really invents Columbia is in 1775. She writes a poem to George Washington, who was then the commander in chief of the Continental Army. And at that time, the two armies were at an impasse. And in a way, Phillis Wheatley is calling upon George Washington to action, and calling him to greatness. And she uses this goddess figure of Colombia for the first time that we really know of as a way of imploring him to lead the people on and create a great country.


To his excellency George Washington. Celestial choir enthroned in realms of light. Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write. While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms, she flashes dreadful in refulgent arms. See mother Earth–




Ultimately, Uncle Sam really does supersede Columbia, but it takes quite a while for him to do that. He’s first identified as a symbol during the War of 1812. And I’d say it wasn’t for another 100 years or so that Uncle Sam really took her place or became more well known as a symbol. She’s use quite heavily alongside Uncle Sam during the Spanish-American War







Washington Irving
Washington Irving’s Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, 1820


In the 1820s, Washington Irving’s Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, the first English language biography of the explorer, was a best seller


When he was in Spain, it was suggested to him that he produce a translation of the great body of documents associated with Christopher Columbus that were just being published at the time. In Spanish, of course. And he took a look at this massive corpus and realized that a translation would be more than a lifelong task for him. So he turned instead to, in fact, write a narrative of the life of Columbus


He present the story of an individual who against all odds, with a visionary hope of his own, and full confidence that he can realize that vision, forges ahead, leaving anything and everybody who doesn’t want to go with him behind. It’s the frontier spirit


It’s a Columbus who is somebody in a foreign land. It is someone who is going to create his own destiny, and that of an entire new world. 


The sole individual, visionary in outlook, practical in approach, ready to conquer new worlds, ready to extend new frontiers, ready to do well for himself while claiming to do good for others.


Irving casts this is that no, it was Columbus who had the heroic vision. And it was the others, not Columbus, who are responsible for all of the indignities that he suffered, not to mention the exploitation that the native peoples of the Americas suffered.


Rasmus Bjorn Anderson

America Not Discovered By Columbus,1874



Instead of beginning in 1492, Anderson’s story started with the Vikings in the late 900s. Not only had they made it to the New World, he argued, they had sailed into Massachusetts Bay itself. Hence the town of Woods Hole, allegedly named with the Viking word for hill. Hence the supposed Viking skeleton unearthed in Massachusetts a few decades earlier.



So for example, he emphasized that these Norse settlers had institutions which were in a way, the predecessor institutions of American institutions. And so he emphasized that they were free men who assembled in what he called “open parliaments of the people”, referring to something which actually existed, which were these Scandinavian assemblies. And so he was appealing to their understanding of themselves politically.


And he told a whole story about how this party of Vikings was led by Leif Ericson, the son of Erik the Red, and that one of the people who accompanied him was Leif’s brother, Thorvald Ericson. And so in Anderson’s book, he presents the story that Thorvald was killed by Indians in North America, crosses are erected on his grave, and that he sheds Christian blood. It’s a way for him to almost invert the history that people would have known, and indeed that people were still experiencing at the time about conquest, where most of the violence would have been perpetrated by Europeans against Indians.


And so in a way, he has this alternative history of the discovery of America where the violence is going primarily in the other direction against Europeans. And it’s an interesting story to be telling the people. Because if you think about this period, a lot of people in New England were quite uncomfortable with many of the trends in the West.


And it’s also a different story to the story of Columbus, where of course, there would’ve been a very strong tradition to emphasize what we would think of as the genocidal implications of the Colombian conquest.



History also teaches students to appreciate and navigate complexity and change. Studying the past helps students develop judgment, for it puts before them a panoply of human folly and achievement that can help guide them in unfamiliar terrain.


Young people learn that the best laid plans often go awry; that human emotions can prove the driving force of history; that unintended consequences are the rule more than the exception;




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