This Is History
Asking the question “what is history” is similar to asking the question “where does space end”. Kincaid asks this question repeatedly while trying to find an answer, “What is history? Is it a theory?” (Kincaid 4). There are a multitude of possibilities. These possibilities can be correct or incorrect, but what they have in common is that they are all opinion based since there is no definite answer. Jamaica Kincaid voices her opinion on history in her essay “In History” as she writes about her perception of what history is, while using accounts from Columbus. She includes herself in the discussion by writing around her standpoint and by both asking questions that are aimed toward her, and by giving examples from her personal life. She is very curious as to how her history began, and explores the ideas of Columbus since he discovered the Americas, the place Kincaid calls home.
Kincaid believes her history was set in motion in 1492, the date in which Columbus and his many men mistakenly discovered the New World. The New World, that was only new to Columbus and his men. History had already started long ago with the Natives that called the “New World” home before Kincaid could. Columbus did not only come as a “discoverer” as Kincaid says, but also a conqueror, as Kincaid fails to mention. He took over the land as his own, caring not for the local inhabitants. He enslaved and took over the locals as he colonialized the New World. In doing so Columbus in essence wiped out the history of the Natives and replaced it with his own. Re-naming things as if they never existed until the day he gave name to everything. Kincaid says her history started in 1492, is that also the date the history of the Native’s came to an end? The reason Kincaid’s history starts at 1492 and not prior is because Columbus was the one to set the Americas’ history in motion. Oscar Wilde says, “Anybody can make history; only a great man can write it.” Columbus is that “great man” that was able to write history, the natives are now, simply, part of it. Prior to Columbus there was no knowledge of the Americas, he opened it up for the world to see, discovering it and while doing so, conquering the land and all of those part of it. For this reason, Kincaid’s history starts at 1492 and not before.
Kincaid’s history may have started in 1492 but she was not a part of it then. In her essay she is recounting Columbus’ observations, telling the reader how Columbus saw the New World when he first got there. Since Kincaid was not actually there her mindset is a mixture of what Columbus saw and some of her own interpretations. By incorporating accounts from Columbus she is informing us on how she believes the Americas looked in 1492. Kincaid writes, “ This world he saw before him had a blankness to it, the blankness of the newly made, the newly born”(In History 2). Though the world Columbus saw before him was not actually blank it was very unfamiliar. Kincaid’s history began next. Columbus had the unique opportunity to name these unfamiliar things and in doing so began to write history. Kincaid questions how everything got its name from the blankness and why Columbus had this power. She mentions that from blankness comes chaos and from that chaos we can start to determine names in an effort to mitigate the chaos. She says that everything needs to be named and created somehow. Even if it is already created physically, it must be created to have meaning. The act of creating is what makes up history. Controlling the chaos, containing it, producing something so that the chaos can turn into a familiarity. A good example Kincaid brings up is the origins of Antigua. “The place I am from [Antigua] is named after a church” (Kincaid 3). Her people did not name it after a church, the people that discovered the island named it after something familiar to them, something they knew, or liked, which happened to be a...
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Brown, Henry. “Poem Hunter.” History Maker. Johannesburg South Africa: HN Brown, 2009. 31/57. Web.
Kincaid, Jamaica. “In History,” The Best American Essays. Ed. Cynthia Ozick and Robert Atwan. Boston – New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998.
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