October 12, 2010

Columbus Day, Discovery Day, Dia de la Raza, Day of the Americas, Indigenous People's Day

This day has many other names besides the five given above and is either celebrated or commemorated with sorrow by many different groups and countries, especially in the so-called New World.

On this day in 1492, Christopher Columbus's expedition spotted land after voyaging across the Pacific Ocean from Spain for five weeks. The land they spotted was an island in the Bahamas. Columbus dubbed the island San Salvador and reported that the natives called it Guanahani. Actually, these days nobody knows for sure which island was the site of Columbus's first landing! People from at least three different islands in the Bahamas claim it was their island.

In this journal entry from October 12, Columbus demonstrated the way of thought prevalent of Europeans of his time:

They [the native people he met on the island] ought to make good and skilled servants, for they repeat very quickly whatever we say to them. I think they can very easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. If it pleases our Lord, I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language."

What Columbus Got Wrong

Columbus understood what all educated Westerners understood—that the world was round. However, Columbus differed from the accepted view of scholars in the size of the world. And Columbus, it turns out, was very, very wrong.

  • He thought the world was smaller than it was.

  • He thought that Europe was larger than it was.

  • And he thought that Japan and other inhabited islands were far east off the coast of China rather than being quite close.

Columbus thought the distance from the Canary Islands (near Africa) to Japan was about 2,300 miles—but it was really almost six times farther, more than 12,000 miles away!!!

If it hadn't been for the fact that the Americas and their attendant islands had been close to the location Columbus expected to find the East Indies, Columbus's first expedition would have  ended in death for all.

What Columbus Got Right

Columbus was considered a brilliant mariner (one who steers a ship), and he knew how to use the trade winds to cross the Atlantic going westward and back again eastward. Without this knowledge, his first expedition would not have succeeded.

An Old-Fashioned View

Back in 1892, in time for the 400th anniversary of Colubus's first landing, this “True Story” was published. Do you think it is really true and accurate? Are there biases? 

Crafts and Food Fun

Kaboose offers some ideas for Columbus Day fun. Here's one I like

Catch some videos about Columbus.

Here's one history-channel offering.  There are lots more!

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