Daily Class OutlineDaily Class QuestionsDaily Class Web LinksDaily Class Notes

Question for Discussion:
Why do we still celebrate Columbus as the "discoverer" of America?  What does this tell us about
American culture?

Reading: Loewen, pp. 42-74; Columbus letter (web); Indians claim Italy by Right of Discovery (web); Columbus Wanted poster (web)

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Assignment:  Come to class with a sheet containing the e-mail address of the e-mail account you most frequently check.

Daily Class Web Links

General Columbus and European Discovery of America Sites:

Columbus Discovers America

Columbus and the European Encounter
with Indian America

Daily Class Outline

1. Why do High School History Textbooks portray Columbus as the "discoverer of the New World"?

2. How did Columbus initially treat the so-called Indians that he discovered in the Caribbean?

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3. What caused the Spanish to begin to use massive violence against the Indians?

4. Why did Columbus and the Spanish conclude that they had the right to kill and enslave the Indians of the Americas?

5. Why did the Spanish begin to bring in Africans to the Americas as slaves?

6. What lessons did the English learn from the Spanish conquering of South America that helped them settle and conquer North America?

7. What does Loewen means when he argues that "there was no Europe before 1492 and there were no 'white people' either before 1492"? (67)

8. How should we judge the actions of Columbus and the Spanish in the Americas?

9. Why don't most Americans understand the brutal reality of the Spanish and European conquering of the Americas?

10. What does it tell us about American culture and society that we still celebrate Columbus as a great hero?

11. What do American Presidents like George Bush mean when they celebrate "Columbus as a role model for the nation"? (69)

12. Was Columbus a brutal murderer, a conquering general, a brave explorer, a greedy pirate, a missionary for Western Civilization and Christianity, or a man trapped by the culture and society of his time? Can we see Columbus as a little bit of each of these characterizations?

Daily Class Questions

Instead of traditional notes for our discussion of the Columbus reading, I want to give you a series of questions that the reading led me to ask. If you approach the reading for this class in terms of how it helps us ask and answer a set of historical questions, you will get more out of the reading. Sometimes it isn't the facts that the reading presents but the questions it raises or fails to raise that proves most interesting.

  1. How do we judge Columbus? From whose moral standard can we judge him?

  2. Are there universal moral standards from which we can judge Columbus and Spanish violence and brutality?

  3. What were Columbus's objectives for his voyages to the "New World"? Can he better understand and explain his actions based on his larger goals?

  4. What caused Columbus to change his attitude towards the Indians he met?

  5. Do you accept Howard Zinn's argument that for Columbus and his men, "total control led to total cruelty" towards the Indians?

  6. If Columbus and the Spanish were so brutal towards the Indians, why then do we celebrate Columbus as a hero?

  7. Why did the Spanish use so much violence and brutality to control the Indians?

  8. What does Loewen means when he argues that "there was no Europe before 1492 and there were no 'white people' either before 1492"?

  9. How did the discovery of the Americas change Europe after 1492?

  10. Can we see Columbus's so-called discovery of the Americas as actually a meeting of three worlds--the European, the American Indian, and the African world?

  11. Why don't history textbooks that celebrate Columbus recognize and respect the Indians of the Americas as human beings?

  12. Is Columbus a "good guy," a "bad guy," or merely
    a man of his culture and time?

  13. Why did John Smith use Columbus as a model for the Jamestown colony's treatment of neighboring Indians?

  14. Did Columbus really set the example and model that future explorers and settlers would follow in their treatment of American Indians?

  15. If Columbus's actions were the model for future explorers and settlers, what does this tell us about European culture and civilization?

Daily Class Notes

What can we learn from Columbus's first impressions of the Indians? Did the Spanish explorers and settlers help determine the
general European impression of American Indians?

Friday, 12 October. At two o'clock in the morning the land was discovered, at two leagues' distance; they took in sail and remained under the square-sail lying to till day, which was Friday, when they  found themselves near a small island, one of the Lucayos, called in the Indian language Guanahani. Presently they descried people, naked, and the Admiral landed in the boat, which was armed, along with Martin Alonzo Pinzon, and Vincent Yanez his brother, captain of the Nina.

The Admiral called upon the two Captains, and the rest of the crew who landed, as also to Rodrigo de Escovedo notary of the fleet, and Rodrigo Sanchez, of Segovia, to bear witness that he before all others took possession (as in fact he did) of that island for the King and Queen his sovereigns, making the requisite declarations, which are more at large set down here in writing.

Numbers of the people of the island straightway collected together. Here follow the precise words of the Admiral:

As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force, I presented them with some red caps, and strings of beads to wear upon the neck, and many other trifles of small value, wherewith they were much delighted, and became wonderfully attached to us. Afterwards they came swimming to the boats, bringing parrots, balls of cotton thread, javelins, and many other things which they exchanged for articles we gave them, such as glass beads, and hawk's bells; which trade was carried on with the utmost good will. But they seemed on the whole to me, to be a very poor people. They all go completely naked, even the women, though I saw but one girl.

It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion. They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. If it please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your Highnesses, that they may learn our language.

Saturday, 13 October.
"At daybreak great
multitudes of men came to the shore, all young and of fine shapes, very handsome; their hair not curled but straight and coarse like horse-hair, and all with foreheads and heads much broader than any people I had hitherto seen; their eyes were large and very beautiful; they were not black, but the color of the inhabitants of the Canaries, which is a very natural circumstance, they being in the same latitude with the island of Ferro in the Canaries. They were straight-limbed without exception, and not with prominent bellies but handsomely shaped.

Sunday, 14 October. In the morning, I ordered the boats to be got ready, and coasted along the island toward the north- northeast to examine that part of it, we having landed first at the eastern part. Presently we discovered two or three villages, and the people all came down to the shore, calling out to us, and giving thanks to God. Some brought us water, and others victuals:

Others seeing that I was not disposed to land, plunged into the sea and swam out to us, and we perceived that they interrogated us if we had come from heaven. An old man came on board my boat; the others, both men and women cried with loud voices--"Come and see the men who have come from heavens. Bring them victuals and drink." There came many of both sexes, every one bringing something, giving thanks to God, prostrating themselves on the earth, and lifting up their hands to heaven.

I do not, however, see the necessity of fortifying the place, as the people here are simple in war-like matters, as your Highnesses will see by those seven which I have ordered to be taken and carried to Spain in order to learn our language and return, unless your Highnesses should choose to have them all transported to Castile, or held captive in the island. I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.

Tuesday, 16 October.They have no religion, and I believe that they would very readily become Christians, as they have a good understanding.

© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 27 August 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/.destiny.htm
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