Another day, another question contributing to the already exceptional ambiguity of the idea of Latin America- now not just where, but also when? I think this weeks video raises an interesting point well before it begins to discuss the impact of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. Was Latin America only brought into existence by the arrival of the Italian? If so, why are lasting pre-colombian aspects of culture, like indigenous artwork or music, still considered important parts of Latin America today? Latin America seems like a sum of both parts old and new, with no one root or single ancestor, a mix, or clash, of cultures that seem distinct, but intertwined, bonded permanently by the trauma that was the arrival of Columbus. Columbus himself represents to me the worst of the European Powers of the day: mistaken, but self-assured, christian, but cruel. No matter how you look at him, Columbus seems very polar. Some believe he is a hero, some a villain. Sometimes he is referred to as a scientifically motivated explorer, sometimes a cruel conqueror. I have never heard of him described in terms less than absolute. He is a god, or he is the devil. Of course, Columbus would have thought of himself as only a man. As the video says, he would have had no idea how momentous his “discovery” would be, or any idea of the scale of events it would set off. In fact, as mentioned, he didn’t even know he had landed in the Americas, a fact I find very telling about his beliefs and personality. Actions on his part such as the persistence that he had discovered a new route to Asia despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary seem to me to be indicative of the fact that Columbus was not one to see the forest for the trees, although the video makes a good point when it reminds the viewer that Columbus was failing to deliver what he had promised to the Spanish Monarchy, so perhaps the constant self assurance and denial of evidence were simply necessary actions on his part to protect his interests and reputation. I don’t think we can blame Columbus for his “discovery” of the American Continent. The very fact that he set off to find a route to Asia and instead accidentally happened upon what is now the Bahamas is to me proof enough that he was not responsible for arriving in the new world. Put that blame on luck, or cosmic interference or whatever you want. I do, however, believe that we can hold Columbus responsible for the systematic abuse and destruction of the native people, and in that regard, Columbus is not a good guy. To finish off, I’ll include a link to a web comic which definitely villainizes Columbus, while at the same time strongly commending one of his contemporaries: Bartolome de las Casas. Be warned, some of the language in the webcomic is a little less than academic, and while the author does cite his sources, the comic did generate a fair amount of controversy when it was published. I do not wish to condone everything the comic has to say, but it does offer an interesting point of view. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/columbus_day
Your entry was a pleasure to read thanks to your tone and thoughtful ideas. Interesting to read the oatmeal comic strip too.
Thanks for you thoughtful post. I agree with your statement that Columbus is indeed a polarizing figure and with the evidence you provide to support both the view of him as a villain and as a hero. After reading some excerpts from his journal we can see a lot of evidence of his own internal struggles and also his way of thinking. He didn’t think of his actions as being “bad” but assimilating and colonizing were things he set out to do and was charged to do by his people and rulers. I also think that maybe it is limiting to evaluate any figure in such a dichotomous way and perhaps a better approach would be to leave out the potential bias that comes with judging him and his actions as inherently “good” or “bad” and rather to evaluate and explore them in a neutral, contextualized way.
Hi! I completly agree with you, we cant blame on Colombus for arriving to America, it was an act of luck that he arrived there and not in the northern or southern part.
Hi there! I found your post to be very observant. Your tolerant approach towards History reminded me that in the end Columbus was only a man living in the 15th century. I guess as long as we have not stood in his shoes, we cannot rightfully blame him for everything that happened in the aftermath of his discovery. Just like all is not just black or white, we cannot possibly present him as either a hero or a villain. That would be oversimplifying. I also liked the comic and more specifically the example of Bartolomé de las Casas. I like to think that maybe we could change Columbus Day and make it the day of Bartolomé! I had never heard of him before, but I think his story is very interesting as well. It is a pleasant reminder that occasionally Men learn from their mistakes and try not to repeat them over the course of History.
Great post! Columbus is definitely a polar figure as he is presented in any telling of the story. Perhaps this is unavoidable, as the landing of Europeans in the Americas is such a significant part of world history, any telling of the tale is bound to be energized and emotional. I appreciated that you also make reference to his humanness: he makes mistakes, he is uncertain, he fails. He also is calculating and cruel. You present a well-rounded Columbus.
Hey! Thanks for the post. Been a fan of the Oatmeal for a while, but I haven’t seen that comic.
I liked what you said about Columbus being talked about in absolutes, that he either “god” or “devil”, “hero” or “villain”. It’s interesting to have these dichotomies in play, as they have self contained contexts and connotations involved. I think the word that I’ve been spouting out the most in a lot of these comments + posts is “narrative” in relation to how we perceive history. Columbus exists in multiple narratives, one concluding that his actions are heroic, and one concluding that his actions are problematic. Though I don’t believe we have room for multiple narratives of Columbus and his actions, it’s a thought… (I didn’t really have a conclusion to these thoughts, I just kind of had them come through upon reading your post)