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Christopher Columbus: Persistent Myths 1) Where do these myths come from? 2) What do they tell us about the nature of history? Myth #1 Columbus proved.

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Presentation on theme: "Christopher Columbus: Persistent Myths 1) Where do these myths come from? 2) What do they tell us about the nature of history? Myth #1 Columbus proved."— Presentation transcript:

1 Christopher Columbus: Persistent Myths 1) Where do these myths come from? 2) What do they tell us about the nature of history? Myth #1 Columbus proved the world was round Columbus the modern man Myth #2 Columbus was like Hitler Columbus the evil, genocidal maniac The story of Christopher Columbus, the bold young rationalist who overcame ignorant and intractable churchmen and superstitious sailors, is fixed in modern folklore.... The courage of the rationalist confronted by the crushing weight of tradition and its cruel institutions of repression is appealing, exciting— and baseless. Inventing the Flat Earth (1991) Columbus... found that he was in danger of being convicted not merely of error, but of heterodoxy.... Such are specimens of the errors and prejudices, the mingled ignorance and erudition, and the pedantic bigotry, with which Columbus had to contend. The Life & Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828)

2 Inventing the Flat Earth The Renaissance Humanists did not merely attack the Middle Ages; they invented them. The Humanists perceived themselves as restoring ancient letters, arts, and philosophy. The more they presented themselves as heroic restorers of a glorious past, the more they had to argue that what had preceded them was a time of darkness... Where Protestants wished to darken the Middle Ages in order to discredit the papacy, Humanists such as Erasmus wished to restore the purity of the early church... Both the Protestants and the Humanists, demanding the restoration of the brilliant past, needed to posit a decline... The brighter the Humanists were to shine, the darker the preceding ages had to be painted... The Humanists did not mention flatness [of the earth], but as the idea grew that the people in the intervening ages were stupid, so did the assumption that nothing was too silly for them to believe...

3 If We Repeat It Enough, It Makes It True? We are so convinced that medieval people must have been ignorant enough to think the world flat that when the evidence is thrown in front of us we avoid it, as we might, when driving, swerve around an obstacle in the road. Thus our worldview is based more upon what we think happened than what really happened. A shared body of “myth” can overwhelm reason and evidence... Inventing the Flat Earth (1991) The European sailor of a thousand years ago also had many other strange beliefs [besides witches and the Devil]. He turned to these beliefs because he had no other way to explain the dangers of the unknown sea. He believed...that a ship could sail out to sea just so far before it fell off the edge of the sea... We the People (1982)

4 Columbus: Hero or Hitler? Some recent debunkers of Columbus approach the evidence with a sense of triumphant outrage, angered by their assumption that the full story has been hidden from them. They respond like the child in all of us after discovering that trusted adults have withheld part of the truth.... Unfortunately, their approach often serves a particular political agenda rather than an informed search for truth. For example, an environmentalist might portray Columbus primarily as the first European desecrater of the American environment... Supporters of American Indian causes might pillory Columbus as a genocidal maniac.... Such furor is counterproductive, not because it merely tears down the distorted heroic myth of Columbus, but because it merely erects other distortions in its place.... The Worlds of Christopher Columbus (1992) [The] road to Auschwitz was being paved in the earliest days of Christendom.... on the way to Auschwitz the road’s pathway led straight through the heart of the Indies and of North and South America. American Holocaust (1992)

5 Columbus = Hitler How many Native People died in the American Holocaust? Thirty million? Forty million? Fifty million? How many were slaughtered? How many were sent to concentration camps? How many died of diseases they couldn’t even name? The American Holocaust is our experience.... The West has conducted a capitalist jihad against Native America.... Confronting Columbus (1992) [The] celebration of Columbus and the European conquest of the Western hemisphere he set off is greatly analogous to celebration of the glories of nazism and Heinrich Himmler. Ward Churchill, “Deconstructing the Columbus Myth” (1996) Columbus makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent. Russell Means, AIM (1989) [From 1492 to 1500] there is not one recorded moment of awe, of joy, of love, of a smile. There is only anger, cruelty, greed, terror, and death. That is the record. Nothing else, I hold, is relevant when we discuss our commemoration of its 500th anniversary. Hans Koning, “Teach the Truth About Columbus” (1991)

6 Lessons Learned? Columbus-the hero and Columbus-the-villain live on.... no argument can dispel them, however convincing; no evidence, however compelling.... For one of the sad lessons historians learn is that history is influenced less by the facts as they happened than by the falsehoods men believe. Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, “Columbus-Hero or Villain?” (1992) Arriving at truth, college students were once taught, takes intellectual effort; repeating ideas that happen to be in the air takes none. Without careful study the impulse to cast aside other people’s myths for what we think are obvious truths creates myths of its own. Robert Royal, 1492 and All That (1992)


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