Last Monday was Columbus Day. It is not a day I have ever considered to be a real holiday. Not because I am making some political statement or challenging conventions. I have never considered Columbus Day a holiday simply because school is still in session. Any holiday where you have to go to school, or work, isnt really a holiday at all.
Still, Columbus Day is important, even if it doesnt excuse us from our regular routine. Columbus Day can serve to remind us just how radically different the world has become since 1492.
Christopher Columbus is often credited with the discovery of America. But as every smart-mouthed high school student in America will astutely point out, Columbus was not in fact the first to set foot on American shores. Of course, there were already people here when he landed. People who had already been here for tens of thousands of years.
Leif Eriksson crossed the Atlantic to North America centuries before Columbus. Many other people from around the world and throughout time surely made a similar trip. Leif gets the credit because he was the first to actually sail back.
Just because Columbus wasnt the first person to discover the Americas doesnt mean he should be doomed to share a table with second-tier historical figures like Neville Chamberlain and Dan Quale.
The first voyage of Columbus was responsible for forging the world we live in today. Not since the first small groups of humans encountered each other has an event had such world-altering consequences. Until we make contact with extraterrestrial life no event will compare.
It is easy for us to forget that although tomatoes are a staple food in Italy, the ancient Romans didnt have them. The Irish eked out a living for thousands of years before even hearing of a potato, and there was not a single sheep or head of cattle or even a horse in all of North and South America for the vast majority of history.
Columbus could never have predicted how great an impact his voyages to the New World would have. It is probably correct not to give him credit for discovering the Americas. Even he believed to his death that he had landed in Asia. In the years following his death, the constantly crisscrossing paths of seagoing vessels have sewed the Old and New worlds together.
The Columbian exchange has resulted in such a thorough integration of plants, animals and people that the pre-Columbian world would be unrecognizable to a modern person. Whether or not this was a good thing is a matter of personal opinion.
For having such a profound impact on the world, Christopher Columbus isnt well remembered or understood today. Columbus could have had two entire continents named after him, were it not for Italian cartographer Amerigo Vespucci, who stamped his own name on his maps. Today, after his transformative influence, Columbus name only graces one small South American country.
Whether you like him or not, whether you consider him a brave explorer or a genocidal maniac, it is undeniable that Christopher Columbus irrevocably changed the world. He deserves more credit than he currently receives: insults hurled backward through time, and a divisive holiday that doesnt really count.