This just in: Columbus not as popular as he used to be

Columbus, from Wikimedia Commons

Here’s an item from the AP on how today’s schoolteachers are giving their students “a more nuanced picture of Columbus than the noble discoverer often portrayed in pop culture and legend.” 

Anybody else having a hard time thinking of instances in which Columbus has been “often portrayed in pop culture” at all these days, let alone nobly?

If that’s been the case in the past, we’re apparently making up for it with a vengeance.  From a Tampa kindergarten teacher: “I talk about the situation where he didn’t even realize where he was.…And we talked about how he was very, very mean, very bossy.”

In Pennsylvania, a group of fourth-graders “put Columbus on trial this year — charging him with misrepresenting the Spanish crown and thievery. They found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.”  I’m not sure what constitutes “misrepresenting the Spanish crown,” but it must be serious.  I hate to imagine what they’d do to Coronado.

Blaming Columbus for all the unfortunate side-effects of European colonization and emphasizing his character flaws aren’t news.  This has been standard operating procedure in both academic and popular circles for some time now.   Why the AP is just now taking notice of this, I have no idea.  I’ve always known that the media don’t pick up on intellectual trends until long after they’ve begun to permeate the popular consciousness, but I didn’t know it took decades.  Or maybe today was just a really, really slow news day.

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1 Comment

Filed under Colonial America, Teaching History

One response to “This just in: Columbus not as popular as he used to be

  1. Frances Hunter

    Great post on Columbus. It’s wearisome that the media thinks that repeating tired, decades-old tropes from academe is somehow trendy.

    For another take on Columbus, other than the deep insight that he was “mean” and “bossy,” I ran across a good quote yesterday on Columbus from Morison book, Admiral of the Ocean Sea:

    At the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. . . .

    Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nuremberg were correcting their proofs from Koberger’s press, a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon with news of a discovery that was to give old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. Strong monarchs are stamping out privy conspiracy and rebellion; the Church, purged and chastened by the Protestant Reformation, puts her house in order; new ideas flare up throughout Italy, France, Germany and the northern nations; faith in God revives and the human spirit is renewed. The change is complete and startling: “A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future.”

    Christopher Columbus belonged to an age that was past, yet he became the sign and symbol of this new age of hope, glory and accomplishment. His medieval faith impelled him to a modern solution: Expansion.

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