H114 Meeting 3: Why Do We Celebrate Columbus Day

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H114 Meeting 3: Why Do We Celebrate Columbus Day

  1. 1. HISTORY OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION: 1648 TO PRESENT LECTURE 3: WHY DO WE CELEBRATE COLUMBUS DAY?
  2. 2. Astrolabe. England. 1574 CE. M&ME 1855,12-1.223. British Museum, London.
  3. 3. “It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion. They very quickly learn such words as are spoken to them. If it please our Lord, I intend at my return to carry home six of them to your Highnesses, that they may learn our language. I saw no beasts in the island, nor any sort of animals except parrots.” Columbus, Journal, 11 October 1492
  4. 4. Treaty of Tordesillas (1494)
  5. 5. On the part of the king, Don Ferdinand, and of Dona Juana, his daughter . . . subduers of the barbarous nations, we their servants notify and make known to you, as best we can, that the Lord our God, living and eternal, created the heaven and the earth, and one man and one woman, of whom you and we, and all the men of the world, were and are descendants, as well as all those who come after us . . . Of all these nations God our lord gave charge to one man called St. Peter, that he should be lord and superior to all the men in the world, that all should obey him, and that he should be the head of the whole human race, whenever men should live, and under whatever law, sect, or belief they should be; and he gave him the world for his kingdom and jurisdiction. . . . Wherefore, as best we can, we ask and require that you consider what we have said to you, and that you take the time that shall be necessary to understand and deliberate upon it, and that you acknowledge the Church as the ruler and superior of the whole world and the high priest called Pope and in his name the king and queen Dona Juana our lords, in his place, as superiors and lords and kings of these islands and this mainland by virtue of the said donation, and that you consent and permit that these religious fathers declare and preach to you the aforesaid. But if you do not do this or if you maliciously delay in doing it, I certify to you that with the help of God we shall forcefully enter into your country and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods and shall do to you all the harm and damage that we can . . . Requerimiento (1512)
  6. 6. Columbian Exchange
  7. 7. Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484-1566). 16th century. Archivo general de Indias, Sevilla, España “The Spaniards first assaulted the innocent Sheep, so qualified by the Almighty, as is premention'd, like most cruel Tygers, Wolves and Lions hunger-starv'd, studying nothing, for the space of Forty Years, after their first landing, but the Massacre of these Wretches, whom they have so inhumanely and barbarously butcher'd and harass'd with several kinds of Torments, never before known, or heard that of Three Millions of Persons, which lived in Hispaniola itself, there is at present but the inconsiderable remnant of scarce Three Hundred.” -- A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies (1552)
  8. 8. In this Isle [Hispaniola], which, as we have said, the Spaniards first attempted, the bloody slaughter and destruction of Men first began: for they violently forced away Women and Children to make them Slaves, and ill-treated them . . . . Now being oppressed by such evil usage, and afflicted with such greate Torments and violent Entertainment they began to understand that such Men as those had not their Mission from Heaven . . . . they began to consider by what wayes and means they might expel the Spaniards out of their Countrey, and immediately took up Arms. But, good God, what Arms, do you imagin? Namely such, both Offensive and Defensive, as resemble Reeds wherewith Boys sport with one another, more than Manly Arms and Weapons. Which the Spaniards no sooner perceived, but they, mounted on generous Steeds, well weapon'd with Lances and Swords, begin to exercise their bloody Butcheries and Strategems, and overrunning their Cities and Towns, spar'd no Age, or Sex, nay not so much as Women with Child, but ripping up their Bellies, tore them alive in pieces. They laid Wagers among themselves, who should with a Sword at one blow cut, or divide a Man in two; or which of them should decollate or behead a Man, with the greatest dexterity; nay farther, which should sheath his Sword in the Bowels of a Man with the quickest dispatch and expedition.
  9. 9. They snatcht young Babes from the Mothers Breasts, and then dasht out the brains of those innocents against the Rocks; others they cast into Rivers scoffing and jeering them, and call'd upon their Bodies when falling with derision, the true testimony of their Cruelty, to come to them, and inhumanely exposing others to their Merciless Swords, together with the Mothers that gave them Life. They erected certain Gibbets, large, but low made, so that their feet almost reacht the ground, every one of which was so order'd as to bear Thirteen Persons in Honour and Reverence (as they said blasphemously) of our Redeemer and his Twelve Apostles, under which they made a Fire to burn them to Ashes whilst hanging on them: But those they intended to preserve alive, they dismiss'd, their Hands half cut, and still hanging by the Skin, to carry their Letters missive to those that fly from us and ly sculking on the Mountains, as an exprobation of their flight. The Lords and Persons of Noble Extract were usually expos'd to this kind of Death; they order'd Gridirons to be placed and supported with wooden Forks, and putting a small Fire under them, these miserable Wretches by degrees and with loud Shreiks and exquisite Torments, at last Expir'd.
  10. 10. Why do we celebrate Columbus Day?
  11. 11. Thomas Bailey, The American Pageant (1966 ed.): Christopher Columbus, a skilled Italian seaman, now stepped upon the stage of history. A man of vision, energy, resourcefulness, and courage…. Success finally rewarded the persistence of Columbus…. A new world thus swam within the vision of civilized man. Bailey sums up that the “discovery” of America was a “sensational achievement, “but states that “The American continents were slow to yield their virginity.” http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/10/04/essay_on_a_lost_book_that_illustrates_evolution_of_histor y_and_of_the_textbook
  12. 12. When we say, “Columbus discovered America,” we mean only that his voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492 first opened the New World to permanent occupation by people from Europe [….] When Ferdinand and Isabella succeeded at last, in January 1492, in expelling Islam from Granada, they moved immediately to wipe out all other non-Catholic elements in the Spanish population, including the Jews who had helped immensely in financing the long wars. The rulers’ instrument was the Spanish Inquisition: its penalties, execution or expulsion. Driven thus to dissolve in blood and misery the source of their wealth and power at home, Ferdinand and Isabella were now prepared to view more favorably Columbus’s project…. [T]he same tide that carried Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria so hopefully toward such golden isles … also bore the last of some hundreds of thousands of Spanish Jews toward Italy and other hostile refuges. Richard Hofstadter’s The American Republic, which was co-authored by Daniel Aaron and William Miller (1959; rev. 1970) http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/10/04/essay_on_a_lost_book_that_illustrates_evolution_of_history_and_of_t he_textbook
  13. 13. “When we read the history books given to children in the United States, it all starts with heroic adventure-there is no bloodshed-and Columbus Day is a celebration . . . . To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to de-emphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an ideological choice. It serves- unwittingly-to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly exercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progreass (Hiroshima and Vietnam, to save Western civilization; Kronstadt and Hungary, to save socialism; nuclear proliferation, to save us all)-that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. Howard Zin, "Chapter 1: Columbus, The Indians, and Human Progress," in A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present (Harper Perennial, 2003), 1-22

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