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?┬áHe 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.