Christopher Columbus: Hero or Brute
I have wanted to write this post for over a month now after having a conversation with a coworker about Christopher Columbus, however I decided to wait for much better timing – and what could be better than Columbus Day! This post is designed to look at the two sides of the mythic man of Christopher Columbus – was he this hero who “found” America and should be celebrated every October? or was there more to this man than meets the eye? There are two distinct versions of Columbus – the one we celebrate and the one that we do not learn about even in history classes.
Hero of Myth
|Columbus Discovers America|
The man we celebrate is the one who persevered to get this expedition to the Indies funded by the Spanish monarchs, sailed his three ships across a lethal Atlantic Ocean, and who ultimately found the island of Hispanola (thinking it was the Indies) and claimed it for Spain. He is celebrated as a great explorer and someone whom we should remember with a day off from work or school. He is the man of our "Creation Story".
|Spread of Disease and Sickness|
When we look a little closer at the real contributions of Columbus and his voyages we get to the grittier side. He didn’t really discover America – explorers had been dropping by for a long time before he arrived. He brought widespread death and destruction to the native populations from diseases, enforced slavery, and other brutal changes brought to their island. It is also believed that he was not even well liked by his own crews.
So how do we rectify these two very different men? If any of you are teachers, do you teach Columbus in class, and if so how? I’m just curious (when I was in grade school it was all celebrations and learning the rhymes and stories of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria sailing across the ocean to discover America. I think the only other thing I got was in high school when we had a new history teacher who actually talked of bringing over small pox). Does it make sense that we have a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Columbus? We currently only have federal holidays that celebrate individuals in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. and Christopher Columbus – should we maybe substitute someone in place of Columbus to celebrate with an individual day? Who would you suggest?
If you are interested in a book that examines how textbooks teach about Columbus, you should check out Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen. He has a great chapter on Columbus and his voyages. This was one of the things that prompted this post. I do think that Columbus is someone that we should certainly teach about, however I think that we should give a better rounded lesson.
Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court