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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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2. Exploring Borders   

2. Exploring

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Activities: Author Activities

Christopher Columbus - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: In his "Letter to Luis de Santangel," Columbus declares that he has "taken possession" of the islands for "their highnesses" Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. What procedures does Columbus follow in order to take possession? What kind of attitude toward the native inhabitants' rights underlies the ritual of possession that Columbus employed?

  2. Comprehension: Why does Columbus open his "Letter to Ferdinand and Isabella Regarding the Fourth Voyage" with the statement that he cannot think of the Caribbean colonies without weeping? What has led to his disillusionment?

  3. Context: Although Bartolomé de las Casas presented himself as a faithful and careful transcriber of Columbus's journals, scholars have been skeptical about the accuracy of his transcription of these documents. Given the attitudes about colonization that inflect Casas's Very Brief Relation of the Devastation of the Indies, what kind of bias might he have brought to the project of transcribing Columbus's experiences? How might his attitudes toward the Indians have differed from Columbus's?

  4. Context: How do Columbus's descriptions of the natural resources he finds on the islands compare to John Smith's accounts of the plants and animals he found in New England? How do these explorers and colonizers deploy similar rhetoric in their accounts of the abundance and fertility of the New World? Do they value the same natural commodities? How do their visions of the eco-nomic possibilities of these two different regions compare?

  5. Context: Columbus is clearly aware that the lands he "discovered" already have native Indian names. In his "Letter to Luis de Santangel," for example, he explains that the Arawak Indians call their island "Guanahani." Yet Columbus seems to have no reluctance about renaming the islands he visits, sometimes for religious reasons (San Salvador) and sometimes after Spanish royalty (Fernandina). Why does he feel justified in renaming the islands? What might he have hoped to accomplish in bestowing these Spanish names? How might his act of discovering and nam-ing relate to the biblical account of Adam naming objects in Eden in the Book of Genesis?

  6. Exploration: Columbus Day (the second Monday in October) has been celebrated as a national holiday since the early twentieth century. What are Americans supposed to be celebrating on that day? Should Americans continue to observe Columbus Day? Does the fact that the holiday was first instituted by Italian immigrant groups seeking to solidify their position in American society affect your assessment of its significance?.

  7. Exploration: How does the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century obsession with the figure of "Columbia" (discussed in Unit 4) relate to the actual experiences of the historical Columbus? Why might he have been an attractive figure to Americans immedi-ately after the Revolutionary War? Why do you think they con-sistently allegorized and feminized their representations of Columbus?

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