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Christopher Columbus and His Legacy: Positive vs. Negative

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Christopher Columbus and His Legacy: Positive vs. Negative

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  • Jan. 2008
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Upon completion of first grade, it is likely that children in America will have learned about the famous maritime explorer and navigator, Christopher Columbus. Born in 1451, Columbus was a Genoese captain commissioned by the king and queen of Spain to find a route to the Indies. However, he sailed the opposite direction of his intended goal by crossing the Atlantic and landing in the Americas, resulting in the discovery of the New World for Spain. Like all major figures in history, Columbus has left behind a legacy that people will always remember him for. The nature of this legacy in question is what remains controversial. It can be summed up with two opposing camps: those that view Columbus with a positive, respectful regard that he changed history for the good and those that polarize him into a negative category, as an individual who had no true achievements of his own and ultimately caused unwarranted harm to human life.

One of the main issues with Columbus is whether he should be seen as a hero, or as a pitiable individual. Harvard professor Samuel Eliot Morrison championed the former, saying, "Christopher Columbus belonged to an age that was past, yet he became the sign and symbol of [a] new age of hope, glory, and accomplishment," (Morrison 223). By discovering the New World, Columbus set into motion the fervor for European discovery in the Americas and beyond. Defenders of Columbus assert it was him that brought Western Civilization to North America—the catalyst for the flourishing of colonies that would ultimately culminate with the establishment of an important nation, the United States. Aware that Norse voyages beat the voyages of Columbus in transatlantic contact, supporters maintain their view of his achievement because his discovery was the first recorded and fully documented account, something the Vikings did not achieve. On the other side there are those that devalue the achievements of Columbus and emphasize his morality as their basis for his...