Christopher Columbus. That one name can either bring out a sense of pride or a feeling of disgust depending on who you talk to. After reading this post, you will be able to decide for yourself if Columbus should be considered a hero or villain.
Growing up as a child in the 1980’s I can remember Columbus Day being a big deal. My teachers would all talk about how Columbus “discovered” America and how he was a true hero. He set sail on a dangerous journey across the Atlantic Ocean with three ships: the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria. His crew almost called a mutiny, but then land was spotted in 1492. I can even remember the catchy little song: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” I thought Christopher Columbus was pretty cool and was lead to believe that he should be honored.
Columbus Day was established as a national holiday by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892, 400 years after Columbus’ first voyage. In 1971, the holiday was officially moved to the second Monday in October. Columbus Day is still a public holiday in many of the states of the United States.
Today, 16 states do not recognize Columbus Day as a public holdiay. Instead these states have changed that day to Indigenous People Day in honor of the natives who were here before Columbus, and to also recognize the mistreatment of all Native American tribes in the Americas by Europeans. There has been a massive shift in thinking in regard to Columbus and if he should be celebrated in these states.
Here is what we know about Columbus. He was from Italy and his name was Cristoforo Columbo. He was not from Spain. He petitioned countries such as England and Portugal to fund his voyage. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain decided to eventually give Columbus the money he needed. He set sail with three ships: the Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria in August of 1492. He and his crew landed in present day Bahamas in October of 1492. Columbus would make 4 total voyages to the Americas, but never found a route to Asia. Because of the exchange of plants and animals between Europe and the Americas the term “Columbian Exchange” was created. Columbus’ voyages set the stage for further European exploration to the Americas.
There are many negative consequences that resulted in the voyages of Columbus that most Americans do not know. When Columbus and his men set foot in the Americas they were carriers of diseases such as small pox. The people that were in the Americas at the time did not have immunity to these diseases. Over the course of the next 200 years, millions of natives would die from South America into central Mexico because of Spanish explorers bringing diseases with them. They unknowingly were killing the native people.
Slavery was another negative consequence of Columbus’ voyages. Columbus enslaved many of the Taino people and even brought some back to Spain to show the King and Queen how these people could be used. In the colonies, he forbade slaves to be baptized because that would free them from their bondage.
Columbus also was not a kind ruler for the eight years he was in the Americas. He was referred to as a despot. A despot is where a single person rules with absolute power. Columbus and his two brothers tortured slaves and and starved their subjects in the newly formed colonies in the Americas. They were not afraid to use violence toward anyone to prove who was the leader. At one point, Columbus was brought in chains back to Spain for the way he ruled only to be pardoned by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand.
When teaching Columbus in the classroom, both sides of the story have to be shared. It is a teacher’s job to share what truths are out there and encourage students to dig deeper to find meaning for themselves.
One activity that will provide background for students is the Christopher Columbus Slide Show. This will lead the student through the early years of Columbus, his voyages, his impact in the Americas, and his impact today. You can purchase it by clicking here or on the image below.
Another activity is the Columbian Exchange cut and paste project. This will have students research what both the New and Old Worlds exchanged with each other in regard to plants, animals, and even disease. It is a hands-on project that will get students involved. You can purchase it by clicking here or by clicking the image.
There is also a close reading passage about Christopher Columbus that will have students decide if Columbus is a hero or villain. Information will be provided about both sides, and students will have to prove using evidence what they believe. You can find it for purchase by clicking here.
All of these resources, and more, are also included in our Columbus bundle. You can find that by clicking here or on the image below.
I hope that you can take some ideas from this blog post and use them in your classroom to provide more information to your students about Columbus, what type of person he was, and his impact on the Americas and Europe.
Sources: La Caida de Critobal Colon by Consuelo Varela (a Seville historian)
“Instead of Columbus Day, Some U.S. Cities Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day” CNN News Online October 13, 2014