Mythbusters: Christopher Columbus

“History is written by the victors,” Winston Churchill said. Another way to understand this power to define reality is through the construction of master narratives. A master narrative is majority-constructed script that specifies and controls how social processes are contextualized. An example of a master narrative that is perpetuated by our education system is one about the “discovery” of America by Christopher Columbus.

When the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria landed on Plymouth Rock in 1492, America was already settled with indigenous tribes. These tribes had a different worldview than the Europeans who came to their land. Journal entries and letters from Columbus himself observe the pacifistic behaviors of the natives: “they are artless and generous with what they have, to such a degree as no one would believe but him who had seen it. Of anything they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they would give their hearts.” While these qualities seem like they would pave the way for a welcoming banquet, Columbus instead chose to capitalize on their selfless nature. He enslaved the native peoples, and shipped many back to Spain as slaves. Many who remained in America were forced with violence to convert to Christianity throughout the European colonization of America.

“I ought to be judged as a captain who for such a long time up to this day has borne arms without laying them aside for an hour,” Columbus wrote, proud of his violence and weaponry. My history teachers did not teach me about the cruelty and violence that Columbus prided himself in. My history teachers did not teach me about the speedy subjugation of the native population. In 1971 Columbus Day was instated as a federal holiday, a day to celebrate the ideals of Patriotism. If days such as Columbus Day are celebrations of our patriotism, what is our patriotism truly representative of?

2 thoughts on “Mythbusters: Christopher Columbus

  1. Thank you so much for writing about this! This is extremely interesting especially since when I think of the master narrative I typically only think of it in terms of Black vs. White relations. It is completely relevant in almost every other context that includes Whites and subordinate groups. I also find this intriguing because it shows how rooted in our history this master narrative is, all the way to when we first settled on this land. It is sad to recognize some of the truths of our country and also know that it is not something that we were exposed to through our education, which only continues to push that master narrative.

  2. This is such an interesting and informative post! I truly never knew about these characteristics of him, primarily because I was never taught about the true being of Christopher Columbus. If that is the basis of America and that is what we are celebrating, we are allowing for this violence and segregation towards “others” to continue on. This depiction of Christopher Columbus makes me think about the many other assets of history that are not taught correctly or to the fullest extent. What other narratives are we taught that leave out the violence and hatred our society puts onto others that are different from the mainstream group? Who is deciding what to teach us and what to leave out? The more I read this post the more I wonder why we keep praising these individuals who have not built a safe and equal society. For example, there are many presidents who we look up to and admire but even owned slaves themselves (which is overlooked most of the time). Nonetheless, how we teach our history is a major concern and something that does in fact need to be addressed.

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