Monday, October 8, 2012

Christopher Columbus

In school we probably remember the term "Columbian Exchange."  This term is used to describe the exchange of culture, people, disease, plants and animals between Eurasia, Africa and the Americas.  Some historians and sociologists describe this as the "greatest tragedy of human history."  This is said mainly because of the negative aspects of the exchange.

Civilizations once powerful are now either gone or dwindling in population due to this exchange.  The indigenous tribes in both Africa and the Americas suffered loss of life due to diseases they were not immune to because of no prior exposure to Europeans.  Europeans faced the same spread of strange diseases but because of their more "modern" understanding of medicine were able to contain it better.

Furthermore, many of these people were sold and traded as slaves by their leaders.  Some people are often under the wrong impression that Europeans went to other lands and kidnapped people to then use them as slaves.   This might have been the case in isolated instances, but not generally.

Due to this globalization, these tribes lost a lot of their culture and ideas.  Over zealous missionaries sometimes destroyed texts that were seen as superstitious or pagan and not useful.  However, other clergy defended and preserved this knowledge despite it being different from Christianity.

Unfortunately, a lot of attention is given to the negative aspects of the Colombian Exchange.  We must also study the positive.  The world benefited from this exchange as well.  Distinct cultures were introduced to one another.   New ideas developed based on new things "discovered" in the "new world."  The world as we know it now with its political systems, technologies, cultures etc, would not exist if it were not for this exchange.

How did it all begin and why?

Today in America we celebrate the man who started it all.  Christopher Columbus was the one who set sail and from the European's perspective "discovered" the "new world."  Prior to Columbus other explorers had their ways of navigating the seas.  The Portuguese who were in competition with Spain found a way to sail to the East by sailing along the coastline of Africa eventually reaching China.  Spain being a super power at the time did not want its neighbor Portugal to outdo them.  King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella hired Columbus after hearing of his ideas on how to sail to the orient.

Columbus was not a "modern man" or scientist.  He was still in a medieval frame of mind.  Columbus was a devout Catholic who used the Bible to figure out his navigational theories.  The Bible gave him inspiration in regards to navigation.  He even wanted to convert Asians and create an army there to surround Muslims and defeat them.  His plan was basically to Sail west to get to the East.

He was a product of his time and must be judged that way.      

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