kottke.org posts about Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus is not worth celebratingOct 13 2015

Columbus Day is to Native Americans as Uber Day would be to taxi dispatchers. Many schools and other institutions are off today. Vox celebrates with a rundown of nine reasons Christopher Columbus was a murderer, tyrant, and scoundrel.

Population figures from 500 years ago are necessarily imprecise, but Bergreen estimates that there were about 300,000 inhabitants of Hispaniola in 1492. Between 1494 and 1496, 100,000 died, half due to mass suicide. In 1508, the population was down to 60,000. By 1548, it was estimated to be only 500.

Understandably, some natives fled to the mountains to avoid the Spanish troops, only to have dogs set upon them by Columbus's men.

The Oatmeal was less flattering.

Update: Here's chapter one of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, the first part of which concerns Columbus. (via @mathowie)

Shipwreck of Santa Maria foundMay 13 2014

A shipwreck believed to be Christopher Columbus's flagship, the Santa Maria, has been found off the coast of Haiti.

The evidence so far is substantial. It is the right location in terms of how Christopher Columbus, writing in his diary, described the wreck in relation to his fort.

The site is also an exact match in terms of historical knowledge about the underwater topography associated with the loss of the Santa Maria. The local currents are also consistent with what is known historically about the way the vessel drifted immediately prior to its demise.

The footprint of the wreck, represented by the pile of ship's ballast, is also exactly what one would expect from a vessel the size of the Santa Maria.

Using marine magnetometers, side-scan sonar equipment and divers, Mr. Clifford's team has, over several years, investigated more than 400 seabed anomalies off the north coast of Haiti and has narrowed the search for the Santa Maria down to the tiny area where the wreck, which the team thinks may well be Columbus' lost vessel, has been found.

1491: the New World before ColumbusOct 15 2013

As a belated recognition of Exploration Day, here's Charles C. Mann's piece on the history of the Americas before Columbus: 1491. This piece blew my doors off when I first read it.

Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought-an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact.

This article spawned a book of the same name, which is one of my favorite non-fiction reads of the past decade.

Change Columbus Day to Exploration DayOct 03 2012

A group of citizens is attempting to change Columbus Day to Exploration Day. Columbus Day has always been a weird holiday, what with CC's slavery and genocide and all, so this seems like a good idea to me. Maggie Koerth-Baker makes the case over at Boing Boing.

The logic is quite neat. Columbus Day is about one guy and the (actually untrue) claim that he was the first person to discover America. Inherently, that's pretty Euro-centric, which is a big part of why it sits awkwardly in a pluralistic country. But exploration is inclusive. The ancestors of Native Hawaiians were explorers who crossed the ocean. The ancestors of Native Americans explored their way across the Bering land bridge and then explored two whole continents. If you look at the history of America, you can see a history of exploration done by many different people, from many different backgrounds. Sometimes we're talking about literal, physical exploration. Other times, the exploring is done in a lab. Or in space. But the point is clear: This country was built on explorers. And it needs explorers for the future.

If you want to help out, sign this petition to Congress or this one to the White House.

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