Christopher Columbus: Imperialist or Discoverer?
Christopher Columbus was an Italian voyager who sailed to the Americas in 1492 on behalf of the Spanish crown. He is often credited with being the first European to have set foot on the American continents, although this claim is disputed. His voyages sparked a wave of exploration and conquest that had profound effects on the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In recent years, some historians have argued that Columbus was an imperialist whose actions amounted to genocide. This research essay takes into account the various views of learned authors and comes to a conclusion that whether Columbus is an imperialistic or a discoverer.
2. What is Imperialism?
Before we discuss whether Columbus was an imperialist, it is important to understand what imperialism is. According to Webster Dictionary, imperialism is “the policy, practice, or advocacy of extending power and dominion, especially by direct territorial acquisition or by gaining political and economic control of other areas”
In simple words, it means that one country tries to extend its power over another country by force or by economic means. There are many examples of imperialism in history, such as the British Empire, the French Empire, and even the Soviet Union.
3. Views of Authors about Columbus:
Some historians argue that Columbus was an imperialist whose actions amounted to genocide while others believe that he was simply a man ahead of his time.
Author Zinn believes that Columbus was an imperialist. In his book A People’s History of the United States, he writes: “The treatment of Indians in the Caribbean at the hands of Columbus and his successors was so brutal – with slaves worked literally to death within a few years – that even some Spaniards petitioned the Crown to abolish Indian slavery” He goes on to say that “the Spaniards launched a series of savage attacks against the native population” and that “by 1500 half of Haiti’s population had been annihilated”. Zinn argues that Columbus’s actions were motivated by a desire for wealth and power, and not by a desire to spread Christianity or help the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
On the other hand, author Morison argues that Columbus was not an imperialist. In his book The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages A.D 500-1600, he writes: “As for slavery, it should be remembered that all mediterranean peoples practiced it in 1492… The fact that some Spaniards later abused their opportunities in America cannot be charged against Christopher Columbus”. Morison argues that slavery was already practiced in Europe at the time of Columbus’s voyages, and so it cannot be said that he introduced it to the Americas. He also argues that Columbus did not engage in genocide, writing: “it must be conceded …that [the Taínos] suffered terribly from disease and ill-treatment after they fell into Spanish hands” but “it would be wrong to accuse Columbus personally of wanton brutality”. Morison argues that while some Spaniards may have mistreated indigenous peoples, this was not done at Columbus’s behest or with his knowledge.
Based on the evidence presented by both authors, it seems clear that Christopher Columbus was
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