The reading of Columbus’ journal was very intriguing to me. Growing up in school, I have always been taught a rather biased version of Columbus, that he was an evil colonizer, who came barging in to the Americas and taking advantage and tricking the indigenous people that lived there to submit to his country and religion. I kind of always assumed that that was the case and that everything that happened afterwards with the violent colonization of Spain and Portugal was Columbus’ fault .
But, reading the journal made me think twice about that notion. Yes, it is true that he most definitely had a superiority complex in relation to the indigenous people, who he thought of as savages, and that he wanted to convert them to christianity. It is also true that he described America already thinking of all the ways Europeans could explore it and take it for themselves. But, the way he wrote the journal did not seem to me like he was this evil, sadistic conqueror who wanted to cause harm to everyone there, and steal all the gold and silver, like I was led to believe before.
Rather, the way he wrote on his journal gave me the impression that he was actually semi-respectable with the indigenous people (at least at first), and tried his best to make them feel safe and happy around him. He was obviously stomped with culture shock, for he had not seen anything like that community before, and the way he described the islanders did not have a tone of mockery, but of astonishment and maybe a hint of pity. He obviously thought he would be doing them a great favour by converting them to the catholic faith, and he truly thought he could help them. Of course when we are looking at it from today’s perspective, his way of acting and thinking was tremendously wrong, but I don’t think that that is quite fair considering Columbus was living in a completely different age, a completely different context from ours.
This becomes even more clear when comparing Columbus’ journal to the second reading. In the second reading it is abundantly clear that people were solely driven by their greed for gold and silver and that resulted in a violent attack on the Inca Civilization, that left many people from both sides dead. I guess my discussion question would be, in light of the social context of the time, was Columbus a bad person? Was he a good person? If you were a normal person in Spain at that time, reading this journal, what do you think your opinion of Columbus would be? And the second part of my question would be, how do you think the representation of Cristopher Columbus should be done in today’s textbooks, considering that this content is being taught for today’s children? Should his actions be portrayed on a good light? A bad light? and why?
Now there’s a good question… how should we portray Columbus today? Perhaps one answer might be to say that we shouldn’t perhaps be so fixated on individuals, whether heroes or villains. And yet it makes such a nice story, either way!