The readings for class this week, like last week’s readings, were very interesting and thought provoking to me. On the first set of readings titled, “Explorations and Early Encounters,” I learned about the famous explorer, Christopher Columbus. While I had known much about Columbus from my previos history classes, this section of this chapter introduced me to new ideas and perspectives that I had never before explored. I also learned about Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and Samuel de Champlain, explorers whom I had previously almost no knowledge of. Below are pictures are each of the three explorers listed above. I thought that by attaching pictures to what I had learned, I might be better able to link what I have learned to a face so that I am able to remember facts and details more easily:
While each of the above explorers (Columbus, Vaca, and Champlain) all explained their adventures and findings, they all did so in very unique and original ways. Columbus, for example, told of his findings through a formal, published letter. In his letter, Columbus exaggerates his findings, making it seem as though there was more to the “New World” then there really might have been. Vaca wrote a captivity narrative which is, by definition, “stories of people captured by ‘uncivilized’ enemies. The narratives often include a theme of redemption by faith in the face of the threats and temptations of an alien way of life.” Lastly, Champlain’s adventures are depicted in the form of an account or travel narrative. All three of these genres have both strengths and weaknesses when it comes to presenting to an audience in order to encourage further exploration of the New World. What is important to note about each of these stories is that they are to be considered expository piece of writing and not orally explained.
I was intrigued with this week’s readings right from the start of the chapter as the narrator explains that colonization in America was initially publicized because of print culture. Because print culture is so abundant today, I often to take this for granted. For me, the majority of my updates information comes from the news of by word of mouth. The printer press made manuscript books available to far wider audiences than ever before so that they might be able to understand the complexities and findings of entrepreneurs in the New World. In addition to sharing information with others back home, printed accounts of explorations served as a kind of official patent or way of taking possession of a territory. The image below is of the printing press:
“Early explorers prided themselves on their courage in going where no other European had gone before and gaining the first glimpse of what for them and their audience was an unknown world” (64).
^ I decided to include the above quote in my blog entry as I felt that it had power and perfectly described how explorers might have felt before, during, and after their explorations. Knowing that you will be the first one to see and report something is intimidating and potentially daunting, however, very exciting and thrilling at the same time! Much like explorers kept journals and records of their pasts, I also keep a journal and often write about things that I experience, especially for the first time.
Christopher Columbus (1451-1506):
As I explained in my introduction to this blog entry, learning about Christopher Columbus was both a “refresher course” and a new lesson for me. I was able to recall much of what I have learned in my prior schooling, but was also introduced to many new concepts. As all of the history books claims, Columbus got permission from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel to travel with 3 ships (Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria) in 1492:
Although Columbus was unsuccessful in finding a trade route to China or reaching the East Indies as he thought he had, he “gained riches for himself and paced the way for the expansion of European commerce and Christianity into these new territories for the next three hundred years” (67).
While Columbus’s letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel is considered by many scholars to be the “single most important printed document in the history of the early exploration of the Americas,” it has also been proven that much of what Columbus portrayed in his findings were exaggerated (68). While Columbus’s letter became available for a wide audience to read and explore which proved beneficial, I feel that today, if a letter were to be this exaggerated it would be picked apart and criticized by scholars. This, however, is a good thing and provides us with hope that the information we are getting provides us with as much truth as possible. I do also realize, however, that individuals at times the information that we obtain as consumers is biased or partially untrue.
Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca (c. 1490-c. 1557)
Vaca’s captivity narrative was thought provoking as it showed the growth and transition of an individual internally. Vaca who once was known as a “zealous conquisador,” wrote accounts of his New World experiences and desire for slave hunters to allow the Pima Indiands, the natives to the land, to remain free. Below is an image of the Pima Indians for a visual aid. I think that being able to visualize the tribe that Vaca describes in his account helps a reader to better sympathize with his perspective:
Although Vaca aimed to inspire better treatment toward the Pima Indians, his account actually led “directly to their further devastation by Spanish conquisadores” (76). Despite this, Vaca’s account proved to be a historically, anthropologically, and literarily significant work.
As Vaca describes the experiences of the Spanish survivors after being shipwrecked, he states:
“To me, one only duty remains, to present a relation of what was seen and heard in the ten years I wandered lost and in privation through many and remote lands. Not merely a statements of positions and distances, animals and vegetation, but of the diverse customs of the many and very barbarous people with whom I talked and dwelt” (77).
The above demonstrates proves Vaca’s sincerest attempt at describing not just what he sees as he explores the New World, but also what he does and with whom he interacts with. I think that when experiencing a new environment, the people and their culture are often the most important aspect of the area. A few summers ago, I worked on a Native American reservation in Montana. While the vast skies and open fields were fascinating and exciting to explore, it was the people and the stories that they shared that really taught me the most and made my experience most valuable.
Samuel Champlain (c. 1570-1635)
While traveling to Spain, the West Indies, and Central America, Champlain kept a detailed journal about his findings and experiences. What’s interesting about Champlain as an explorer is that he often included hand-drawn maps and pictures in his journals; these maps and journals helped historians to later better understand his trips. During Champlain’s travels he “made nearly twelve voyages across the Atlantic, chartering the coast of New England, exploring the possibility of a Northwest passage, mapping thousands of miles of territory, claiming lands for France, and establishing its first permanent settlement, Quebec” (86). When looking at these accomplishments, it seems to me that Champlain was an extremely driven and seemingly successful entrepreneur. Like Vaca, Champlain also developed a sympathy for the natives and developed friendly relations with many of them. Below is a map/image of Lake Champlain, named after Champlain, himself:
As a whole, I really learned a lot from reading about the three explorers described above. I truly believe that we can learn from our history; by reading the journals and accounts of these along with other explorers, we can use their wisdom and their mistakes to further explore the vast world that we live in today.