Christopher Columbus Discovers – Essay Sample

Christopher Columbus Discovers – Essay Sample

Christopher Columbus was a navigator, colonizer, and explorer whose voyages across the Atlantic Ocean led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere. His historical findings changed our scientific understanding of the natural world.  We acknowledge the spherical Earth, the use of the trade winds, and new plant and animal life he introduced to the “New World.” During his lifetime, Columbus led a total of four expeditions to the New World discovering many of the Caribbean islands, the Gulf of Mexico, and the South and Central America main lands. On October 12, 1492, after a thirty-three-day voyage from the Canary Islands, Columbus landed in San Salvador in the eastern Bahamas. He thought San Salvador was an outer island of Japan. His knowledge of geography was based on Marco Polo’s account of his years in China during the thirteenth century and a global map by Martin Behaim. This global map called a Nuremberg map-maker, showed only the ocean between the west coast of Europe and the east coast of Asia (Tirado, 2000). Columbus estimated that a westward route from Iberia to the Indies would be shorter than the overland trade route through Arabia.  The lack of geographic knowledge during the time forced Columbus to take an inefficient route that severely underestimated the circumference of the Earth. Columbus’s initial 1492 voyage was during a critical time of growing national imperialism and economic competition between developing nation states; seeking wealth from the establishment of trade routes and colonies (Tirado, 2000).

Navigation Plans

Columbus’s first voyage marked the beginning of more than three centuries of Spanish conquest, exploration, and administration of a vast American empire. The voyages to the New World had important consequences for both Europe and America. They created Europe’s largest and longest-surviving trading bloc and yielded great wealth for Spain. Columbus had difficulty obtaining support for his voyage because most Europeans still believed that the Earth was flat. However, Columbus utilized navigation tools that relied primarily on the stars and curvature of the Earth to direct the voyage.  These four main voyages showed a change in navigation techniques that directly contradicted the common belief that the earth was flat. Furthermore, the trade winds were also a key importance to Columbus’ plans. A brisk wind from the east, commonly called an “easterly”, sailed Santa Maria, La Nina, and La Pinta. To avoid sailing eastward against these prevailing winds, called “beating”, Columbus returned home by following the prevailing winds northeastward traveling up the North Atlantic. Through the use of these winds, Columbus proved to be correct in determining how to use the North Atlantic’s circular wind pattern that rotated clockwise to get home.

Impact on Europe and America

Friendly, naked natives met Columbus and his crew upon landing. They were Taine Indians, who spoke a variant of the Arawak language. Believing he had landed in the East Indies, Columbus and his crew incorrectly called the native people “Indians.” The natives’ generosity amazed Columbus; they freely gave them all the corn and yams they desired. Columbus initiated widespread contact between Europeans and indigenous Americans. European expansion also had major consequences for ecosystems. Numerous species of fruits, vegetables, and animals were introduced to Europe from America and this was in similar fashion reciprocated. European diseases also devastated America’s natives. The encounter between the European and American settlers produced remarkable ecological transformations shaping the world to the current time (Craig et. al, 2002). Native American diets consisted largely of maize, beans, peppers, yams, and potatoes. The American continents included vast grassland that lacked grazing animals to transform those plants into animal protein. It was apparent that these native peoples had not experienced any major epidemics.

Disease, Animals and Agriculture

By Columbus’ second voyage this picture began to change in remarkable ways. Columbus brought a number of animals and plants to the islands of the Caribbean that were previously unknown to the New World.  However, his sailors were carrying diseases. This played a major role in defeating the indigenous Americans. Wherever Europeans went in the first two centuries after the encounter, extremely large numbers of Native Americans died from diseases they had never before encountered. Smallpox, the most deadly, destroyed millions of people. Also syphilis became a rampant venereal disease. In fact, syphilis remained a serious health problem throughout the world until penicillin was finally discovered in the 1940s.

The introduction of European livestock revolutionized American agriculture. The most
important new animals were pigs, cattle, horses, goats, and sheep. Pigs, cattle and sheep produced enormous quantities of hides and wool. From the sixteenth century through the present the abundance of these animals meant the Americas world support a diet more plentiful in animal protein than anywhere else in the world. Europeans also brought their own plants to the New World. These plants included peaches, oranges, grapes, melons, bananas, rice, onions, radishes, and various green vegetables. Over time Americas used European wheat not only to feed themselves but also to export large amounts of grain throughout the world. The only American animal that came to be raised in Europe were turkeys. The Americas were the source of plants that eventually changed the European diet: maize, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, beans, manioc, peanuts, squash, pumpkins, pineapples, cocoa and tomatoes. Maize and potatoes had the greatest impact on European farming, transforming the European diet. There is reason to believe the cultivation of the potato was a major cause of the population increase in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe. Although most people believe Christopher Columbus discovered America, he was preceded by the “Indians” that had been native to the land for centuries. Columbus is regarded more accurately as the person who brought the Americas into the forefront of the Western attention.





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