ERIC Identifier: ED348317
Publication Date: 1992-04-00
Author: Patrick, John J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Teaching about the Voyages of Columbus. ERIC Digest.
The voyage of Columbus in 1492 is a turning point in world history. After
1492, peoples and civilizations of long-separated regions began to develop
connections that have led to the incipient global community of the 1990s. It is
their global significance that justifies a prominent place in today's school
curriculum for the four voyages of Columbus to the Western Hemisphere, not the
mere fact of their 500th anniversary in 1992 and thereafter. Educators,
therefore, should use the Columbian Quincentenary as a ripe time to renew and
reform teaching and learning about these events of long ago that still affect
most peoples and places of our world today.
THE COLUMBIAN EXCHANGE
The far-reaching and transforming
interactions of peoples in the Western and Eastern Hemispheres, which occurred
after 1492, are known today as the "Columbian Exchange," the title of a seminal
book by Alfred W. Crosby.
Crosby has provided an ecological perspective on the conditions and
consequences of the Columbian voyages that should be included in the school
curriculum. He has examined how plants, pathogens, and animals moved from one
hemisphere to the other and changed natural environments and cultures. He has
described the devastating effects of Eastern Hemisphere microbes on Western
Hemisphere peoples and the subsequent shifts in the genetic composition of
populations in the Americas. However, Crosby has emphasized that the "Columbian
Exchange" has not been one-sided. Certainly European and African plants,
animals, goods, and ideas have affected the Amerindians. But peoples of the
Western Hemisphere have influenced the Europeans, Africans, and Asians too,
especially in their cultivation of crops and preparation of foods.
Elementary and secondary school teachers should use Crosby's concept of the
"Columbian Exchange" to help their students acquire an ecological perspective on
world history. Thus, they will learn how cultural diffusion and social changes
have shaped our modern world. And they will understand Crosby's most important
message: Once begun, the "Columbian Exchange" cannot be reversed. The Columbian
voyages and the subsequent Age of Exploration and Discovery have forged
inseparable bonds between once separated peoples and civilizations, and there is
no turning back.
GEOGRAPHY IN HISTORY
Ideas of geography are indispensable
aids to interpreting and understanding events and developments of history, such
as the Columbian voyages and their consequences. This point is made convincingly
by D. W. Meinig in his ground-breaking project, THE SHAPING OF AMERICA: A
GEOGRAPHICAL PERSPECTIVE ON 500 YEARS OF HISTORY. Teachers should consult
Meinig's work to understand how ideas in geography can improve explanations of
events associated with the Columbian voyages and their global consequences.
Teachers should also use the five themes developed by the Joint Committee on
Geographic Education. These five themes are location, place, relationships
within places, movement, and regions. They have been endorsed as foundations of
geography education by three prominent organizations: The National Geographic
Society, the Association of American Geographers, and the National Council for
Geographic Education. These five themes, applied to inquiries about the
Columbian voyages, can be used to bring a geographic perspective to events and
developments in history.
THE PERSON IN HISTORY
As educators bring the
often-neglected ecological and geographical perspectives to the study of the
Columbian voyages, they must be careful to remember the importance of the great
or prominent persons in history, such as Columbus. The term "great person" in
history is not used here to denote extraordinary goodness or virtue; rather, it
is applied only to those who have had the most far-reaching effects on the shape
of our world. Thus, Columbus can be considered a great man because his decisions
and deeds have had great global impact, from his era to our own times.
One key to understanding the Columbian voyages and their consequences is
accurate information and interpretation about Columbus and his deeds. Teachers
and students need to distinguish the many myths from realities about the life
and times of Columbus. They should, therefore, consult the best biographical
literature on Columbus. One recommended source is the time-honored biography by
Samuel Eliot Morison, ADMIRAL OF THE OCEAN SEA, which emphasizes the skills of
Columbus as a sailor, leader, and visionary.
A new biography by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto has won high praise from
scholarly reviewers for its judicious treatment of Columbus within his European
context, as a man of a particular era, culture, and place in history. In this
balanced and unbiased biography, Columbus's strengths and weaknesses are
examined. Thus, for example, the author reveals Columbus's extraordinary
achievements as a navigator and explorer and his great failures as a colonizer
and administrator. Fernandez-Armesto's scholarly biography is a blend of
sympathy and antipathy about the trials and triumphs of Columbus, who is shown
to be neither a pure villain nor an undiminished hero. Teachers ought to follow
the example of Felipe Fernandez-Armesto in developing realistic classroom
portrayals of Columbus.
A persistent threat to accurate and
balanced treatments of the Columbian voyages is ethnocentric or monolithic
interpretation. The school curriculum has often ignored or glossed over the
diverse viewpoints of Amerindian and African peoples. Improved teaching and
learning about the Columbian voyages must include the various voices of this
fateful encounter between the diverse cultures of four continents and three
An excellent scholarly source of knowledge about Amerindian viewpoints on the
European invasion of their lands is CULTURES IN
CONTACT: THE IMPACT OF EUROPEAN CONTACTS ON NATIVE AMERICAN
INSTITUTIONS, edited by William Fitzhugh. Teachers and students
should also examine Amerindian perspectives discussed in TWO WORLDS: THE
INDIAN ENCOUNTER WITH THE EUROPEANS, 1492-1509 by S. Lyman Tyler.
African and African-American views of the Columbian voyages are closely tied
to a far-reaching and profound consequence of the "Columbian Exchange"--the
Atlantic slave trade. Two highly recommended sources for teachers are Phillip D.
Curtin's (1) THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE and (2) THE TROPICAL ATLANTIC IN THE AGE
OF THE SLAVE TRADE. In addition, Basil Davidson's THE AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE is an
excellent source that presents the African context of the trade in human beings.
In presentations of multiple viewpoints about the conditions and consequences
of the Columbian voyages, teachers should emphasize both diversity between
groups and diversity within groups. For example, the great variations in
responses of Amerindian people to their encounters with Europeans should be
stressed in the school curriculum.
MOVE BEYOND THE TEXTBOOK
If teachers are to provide a
multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives on the Columbian voyages, they must
move beyond the textbook to use various educational materials and resources. A
recent survey of standard textbook treatments of Columbus, by Carla Phillips and
William Phillips (1991, 27-30), reveals their serious limitations. The authors
demonstrate that teachers must expose students to more accurate and profound
examinations of the Columbian voyages than are provided in the typical textbook.
Development of classroom lessons based on primary documents is one way to
provide realistic and detailed treatments of diverse viewpoints. THE LOG OF
CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS is one primary document that can be the basis for
challenging and illuminating teaching and learning activities.
"Columbus and the Age of Discovery," a well-designed seven-program
documentary video series about Columbus's voyages, provides another excellent
means of moving beyond the textbook to enrich teaching and learning in the
classroom. These video programs, produced by the WGBH Educational Foundation of
Boston, were broadcast initially on PBS in October of 1991. They will be shown
again on PBS channels in October of 1992 and in 1993. The director of this video
series, Zvi Dor-Ner, has also written a companion book to his television
programs, COLUMBUS AND THE AGE OF DISCOVERY.
Dor-Ner's book is first rate in its presentation of the European context of
the Columbian voyages, the key events of Columbus's life, and the global
consequences of his deeds. In both his video programs and book, Dor-Ner avoids
the flawed extremes of uncritical glorification and super-critical denunciation
of Columbus, which have distorted too many treatments of his life and deeds.
Thus, teachers should make ample use of Dor-Ner's videos and companion book in
developing lessons and research projects for their students.
Write to WGBH for information about their video series, COLUMBUS AND THE AGE
OF DISCOVERY, and an accompanying TEACHER'S GUIDE: 125 Western Avenue, Boston,
MA 02134. You can purchase this series directly from the WGBH collection, P.O.
Box 2053, Princeton, NJ 08543; (800) 828-WGBH. An interactive video disk (for
IBM and MacIntosh) has been developed by Optical Data; contact WGBH of Boston
about its availability.
Successful education in schools about the Columbian voyages depends upon the
solid and ever-expanding knowledge base of the teacher. Elementary and secondary
school history teachers, therefore, must accept the never-ending challenge of
reading and learning about the life and times of Columbus to provide themselves
and their students with accurate information and interpretations.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are in the ERIC system. They are available in microfiche and paper
copies from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about
prices, contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia
22153-2852; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800) 443-3742. Entries
followed by an EJ number are annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX TO JOURNALS IN
EDUCATION (CIJE), which is available in most large public or university
libraries. EJ documents are not available through EDRS. However, they can be
located in the journal section of most libraries by using the bibliographic
information provided below.
Crosby, Alfred W. THE VOYAGES OF COLUMBUS: A TURNING POINT IN WORLD HISTORY.
Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education
and the Indiana Humanities Council, 1989. ED 312 213.
Crosby, Alfred W. THE COLUMBIAN VOYAGES, THE COLUMBIAN EXCHANGE, AND THEIR HISTORIANS: ESSAYS ON GLOBAL AND COMPARATIVE HISTORY. Washington, DC: American Historical Association, 1987. ED 303 417.
Crosby, Alfred W. THE COLUMBIAN EXCHANGE: BIOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL
CONSEQUENCES OF 1492. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972.
Curtin, Phillip D. THE TROPICAL ATLANTIC IN THE AGE OF THE SLAVE TRADE.
Washington, DC: American Historical Association, 1991.
Curtin, Phillip D. THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE. Madison: University of Wisconsin
Davidson, Basil. THE AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE. Boston: Little, Brown and Company,
Dor-Ner, Zvi. COLUMBUS AND THE AGE OF DISCOVERY. New York: William Morrow and
Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. COLUMBUS. New York: Oxford, 1991.
Fitzhugh, William, ed. CULTURES IN CONTACT: THE IMPACT OF EUROPEAN CONTACTS ON NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985.
Fuson, Robert H., editor. THE LOG OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS. Camden, ME:
International Marine Publishing Company, 1987.
Ibero-American Heritage Curriculum Project. LATINOS IN THE MAKING OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW. Albany, NY: New York State Education Department, 1990. ED 324 184.
Joint Committee on Geographic Education, GUIDELINES FOR GEOGRAPHIC EDUCATION.
Washington, DC: Association of American Geographers and the National Council for
Geographic Education, 1984. ED 252 453.
Meinig, D. W. THE SHAPING OF AMERICA, A GEOGRAPHICAL PERSPECTIVE ON 500 YEARS
OF HISTORY: ATLANTIC AMERICA, 1492-1800. Volume I. New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press, 1986.
Morison, Samuel Eliot. ADMIRAL OF THE OCEAN SEA: A LIFE OF CHRISTOPHER
COLUMBUS. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942.
Nielsen, Lois L., and George R. Nielsen. "Preparing for the Columbian
Quincentennial: An Annotated Bibliography." SOCIAL STUDIES AND THE YOUNG LEARNER
3 (September-October 1990): 13-15. EJ 426 378.
Phillips, Carla R., and William D. Phillips, Jr. "The Textbook Columbus:
Examining the Myth." HUMANITIES 12 (September/October 1991): 27-30. EJ 442 191.
Tyler, S. Lyman. TWO WORLDS: THE INDIAN ENCOUNTER WITH THE EUROPEANS,
1492-1509. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1989.