Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Columbus Day Debate

Monday, October 8, 2012

Columbus Day Debate

Good morning readers! It is Columbus Day! Notice I didn't say "Happy Columbus Day!" The jury is still out on whether this holiday should even be celebrated anymore.

Yesterday, I read this essay published in the Huffington Post, and it summarizes the polarizing viewpoints on Columbus's achievements. On one hand, the article recounts:
[H]is feat and daring compare with Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon. After all, this was a guy who really didn't know where he was going, how long it would take to get there, what he'd encounter by way of dangers along the way or even if his theory about finding land at all would hold any water, so to speak. This was still a time when most thought the world was flat and that Columbus might just sail right off of it. It was "boldly going where no man had gone before." Even Armstrong knew how many miles away the moon was from earth and about how long it would take to get there. Columbus? Really it was like taking off for the next galaxy. With no radar. No sonar. No GPS. No mechanical, steam or electrical power. No packaged or canned food. Not even any plumbing. This took a potent combination of guts and greed both on Columbus' part and on that of their Most Catholic Majesties, Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain.
On the other hand, the "discovery"
set in motion no end of ethnic cleansing, genocide, dispossession, disease and despair for Native Americans (both in North and South America) that to a great extent prevails to this day.... It also set the stage for the forceful importation of millions of blacks from Africa, their being dragged into slavery and their legacy of persecution and discrimination that has only been redressed recently.
 The essayist, Howard Barbanel, ultimately calls for some kind of middle ground that acknowledges the wrongs but also doesn't repress the memory of Columbus completely. The essay certainly got me thinking that there has to be a way to teach the history of Columbus in our culture that doesn't erase the parts of the chain of events that aren't as pretty as the other parts. What do you all think? Will you be wishing each other "Happy Columbus Day!" today?
Either way, if you have off from work, enjoy your day --- until next time, Liza

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