Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) was an Italian explorer and a navigator who was funded by Isabella, the Queen of Spain to discover a sea route to India. In 1492, Columbus landed on the shores of the Bahamas, which he mistakenly believed to be India and its inhabitants Indians. The current legacy of Columbus states that he was the first person to discover America and that he had set sail to prove that the Earth was round and hence an oceanic voyage westward would eventually reach east to the fabled lands of India. This essay examines the changing legacy of Christopher Columbus in the present-day context.
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Columbus was not the first person to discover America. The American Indians, who were descendants of the Asiatic people, were there first. “Claims have been made for St. Brendan, Basque fishermen, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Africans, and even Carthaginians (Pickering ¶1)” but these are unsubstantiated. The distinction of first European to discover America goes to “Leif Ericsson, who built a temporary settlement 500 years earlier at L’Anse aux Meadows (Wikipedia ¶ 1)”, present-day Newfoundland, Canada.
However, Ericsson did not persist in creating permanent colonies, the way Columbus did and in that respect, he was the first European to colonize the Americas. The story that Columbus sailed west to prove the Earth was round is a myth. The fact that the Earth was spherical was already known to Europeans. What Columbus erred was in estimating that the circumference of the Earth was much smaller than the actual measurements and that Asia was “just a few thousands nautical miles West of Europe” (Wikipedia ¶10).
On his first voyage in 1492, Columbus landed in the present-day Bahamas (Pickering ¶ 3) which he called Indios. In the same voyage, he landed on the shores of Cuba and the Northern coast of Hispaniola. He also set up a settlement in present-day Haiti. In the subsequent voyages in 1493 he explored the rest of the Caribbean and in the third voyage in 1498, touched South America. In his fourth voyage, he explored Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rico. The voyages of Columbus resulted in “what scholars refer to as the Columbian Exchange, the two-way transfers of diseases, plants, animals, and cultures that followed Columbus’s voyages” (Tirado ¶11) between Europe and the Americas.
Diphtheria, measles, smallpox, and malaria, were transmitted to the native Indian populations in the New World who had no immunity and who suffered many casualties on account of those diseases. From the New World, a dangerous type of Syphilis was transmitted to Europe. The voyages of Christopher Columbus set the stage for colonization of the Americas which led to the decimation of the Indian populations whom the settlers saw as barbarians.
In conclusion, it can be stated that Columbus was definitely not the first person to discover America. Columbus’s calculations and estimation of the circumference of the Earth were faulty which can be attributed to his lack of navigational experience at sea before his first voyage in 1492. There is no doubt that Columbus did initiate the process of colonization of the Americas, an undoubted legacy. However, the dark side of the same legacy is that it brought forth the worst in the white man’s nature, of intolerance and misplaced ideas of racial superiority.
Pickering, Keith A. “The First Voyage of Columbus.” 1997-2006. The Columbus Navigation Homepage. Web.
Tirado, Thomas C. “Christopher Columbus.” 2009. Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia. Web.
Wikipedia. “Christopher Columbus.” 2009. Wikipedia. Web.