4.3.1 Christopher Columbus

4.3.1 Christopher Columbus - "When Worlds...

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"When Worlds Collide" by Kenneth Auchincloss in "Newsweek" (Special Issue, Fall/Winter 1991, pp. 8-13) No, Columbus didn't discover America. Let's lay to rest that old notion right at the start. First of all, the verb's all wrong for our multicultural, interdependent, ultrasensitive modern world. "Discover" suggests that "we" went out and found a strange and unknown "them." If you are one of "them," you may justly feel you are being patronized. Then, too, it's pretty clear by now that Columbus was not the first outsider to set foot in the Western Hemisphere. That distinction belongs to the original human settlers, who probably crossed from Asia tens of thousands of years ago. Or, if we're not talking about the aboriginal settlers, claims have been staked for various "discoverers": second-century Jews, a Chinese Buddhist who may have visited Mexico in the fifth century, the Irish monk Saint Brendan, Prince Madoc of Wales and--most likely of all--Leif Eriksson and the Norsemen who landed in "Vinland" in about A.D. 1000. (All their claims are engagingly described by Donald Dale Jackson in the September issue of Smithsonian magazine.) But even if they did reach the American continent, none of them made a big deal about it--which Christopher Columbus, in 1492, emphatically did. He left European settlers and animals behind, he brought native people and odd vegetables back. He told tales of rich lands and potential treasure. He inspired a wave of explorers and adventurers to head west. In short, he had consequences. That is why, 500 years later, the world still takes notice. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella . .. the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria . .. the excited shout from the crow's nest . .. the men wading ashore on a Bahamian island may all seem the stuff of school pageants--simplistic, ritualized and more than a bit quaint. But they also mark one of the great collisions of human history. Imagine that a gigantic spaceship descended on our planet tomorrow, filled with four-inch creatures of a color not yet imagined by man. That would perhaps be equivalent to the encounter of the world's two hemispheres half a millennium ago. It was as if scattered pieces of the human puzzle were fitted together at last. Parts became a whole, and life was transformed in a hundred ways. New foods reshaped the diet of both hemispheres; sugar, cattle and pigs moved west, the tomato and the potato, cocoa and corn moved east. The horse, hitherto unknown in the New World, changed daily existence for the Indians of the North American plains and made possible the world of the
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4.3.1 Christopher Columbus - "When Worlds...

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