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week 2: The Meeting of Two Worlds

Before reading Columbus’s account of the voyage of 1492, I had heard a variety of different perspectives about him. Growing up in the United States, in elementary school he was spoken of in heroic terms. I didn’t question that narrative at first because after all, there is a holiday named after him. So he must’ve been a good guy, right? It wasn’t really until high school that I started hearing a different story. I began to understand the narrative that he may have been more of villain than a hero, but it left me feeling conflicted, as there are so many monuments, streets, and schools named after him. How could the whole country still be holding him on a pedestal if it was clear that he wasn’t the great guy that children should look up to? Well I realized that it still wasn’t clear to many people; the narrative of him as a courageous explorer lingered on, constantly being reaffirmed through institutions and “history” books.

After reading his account, I feel more sure that his motivations were rooted in greed and a desire for power and conquest. Reading his notes on the islanders reveals more about Columbus and his culture than about the indigenous people. He viewed everything as an opportunity for material and social advancement, a hierarchy waiting to be climbed. My question is, was his desire to control and conquest coming from a superiority complex and toxic masculinity or was it simply the social norms of Europe at the time that produced those kinds of sentiments? Was it really him that was the villain, or was it the society that he came from? He seemed to have a desire to constantly be in control– he knew that the islands were already named by the natives but he renamed them all himself, he lied to and manipulated his crew by telling them that they didn’t travel as far as they did everyday.

In the video, it is said that “Columbus had no idea he was founding anything.” I disagree with this; he seems to be very sure that he has come across land that will be very valuable for Spain. He expresses that the land is the most rich and fertile in the world, and that only Catholics should be allowed to come to the islands, calling it an “enterprise” that should be left for the sake of the “growth and glory of the Christian faith”. He knew that the place had that potential and expressed how easily the natives could be taken over; he had every intention and hope of making his voyage historical through future action. Maybe not his own action, but I think he knew many would follow after reading his account of the islands.

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6 thoughts on “week 2: The Meeting of Two Worlds

  1. I found your last paragraph very interesting because my idea was that Columbus was focused on discovering land with the purpose of finding gold. He journeyed to many little islands searching for gold and it was my impression that he never spent a lot of time at these different spots.

  2. madeleine deis says:

    Hey Lauren! I thought your post was very interesting especially the questions you posed about if Columbus’s need to control everything was a superiority complex and just a masculine thing, or if it was the norms of the time. I think personally that it was a little bit of both! He was clearly very insecure about the journey that he was on, and mistaken about the geography of the world and therefore he maybe tried to make up for this with an over entitled attitude and a need to control everything. Just a thought?
    Great post!

  3. Brendan Bayer says:

    I enjoyed your analysis of how Columbus’ actions were inherently malicious from the start. I also thought it was interesting reading direct translations and hearing from Columbus directly about how he saw everything as a commercial opportunity. He drew the rest of the conquistadors who subdued the indigenous population and changed the hemisphere, all following this same controlling, greedy attitude. Your opinions are completely reasonable.

    -Brendan

  4. Thalia Ramage says:

    Wow! I always love someone who disagrees with the teacher’s perspective. It’s nice to hear a perspective from the States. Seeing as I grew up in Canada, my exposure to Columbus was limited and focused more on John A MacDonald and Sir Wilfred Laurier. I like that you argue that Columbus knew he was founding something – that seems like a very interesting path to explore and a narrative that sides very well with my idea of Columbus as more villain than hero. In an effort to be somewhat sympathetic towards Columbus, I prefer to view it as him desperately seeking something to show for his voyage, but your perspective of toxic masculinity is not one I had considered as I tend to think of toxic masculinity as more of a modern-day problem rooted from the past.

  5. AntoninFinch says:

    This is a really thought-provoking post. I couldn’t agree more that the narrative of Columbus as a courageous explorer is “constantly being reaffirmed through institutions and “history” books.” The question of if he was simply a man of his time, in that the sentiments which are attributed to him now must be analyzed in the context of his era, is a really interesting one. Most importantly, I really liked your post because it offers an often neglected side of the argument, which is one of Columbus’ own mentality. Focusing on things such as his own “toxic masculinity” and “superiority complex” offer great avenues in which to think about the notion of Columbus as a hero or villain.

  6. sabeeha manji says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It shows us a completely different point of view. I went through the same experience in high-school where we saw Columbus as a hero and we celebrated him (even in Africa as I am from Kenya). I can see from your blog post that you too agree that his actions were not sincere from the start and that he had ulterior motives. Interesting question about control and desire. I feel like it had a lot to do with what it meant to be masculine at the time and had a lot to do with status.

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