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Columbus Day Misconceptions

October 10, 2016

Today marks the approximate date in 1492 that Christopher Columbus…discovered America? Not exactly. Here’s a rundown on a bunch of the misconceptions that have persisted regarding Columbus’s landmark voyage that started out as a way to find a faster trade route to Asia.
Christopher Columbus Trivia

Columbus proved the Earth was round

By the time Columbus set sail in the 1490s, it was generally agreed upon that the Earth was a sphere. Columbus actually adhered to the idea that the world was more pear-shaped than round. He also thought that the planet was a much different size than we now know it to be—that’s how he came across North America by “accident” on the way to Asia. He thought the planet was much smaller and that Asia was much larger.

Columbus was Italian

Because of the changing cultural perception of Christopher Columbus, the Columbus Day Parade in New York City has evolved and expanded from a celebration of Columbus discovering the New World (which he didn’t really do) to a celebration of Italian-American culture and the contributions of Italians to American culture—such as Columbus. But technically speaking, Columbus wasn’t Italian. Italy didn’t become a unified nation until 1861. Prior to that, it was a loose collection of city-states. There’s no record of it, but Columbus insisted that he was born in Genoa (which is now part of Italy). Because of Genoa’s trade colonies on the Iberian Peninsula (today occupied by Spain and Portugal), some scholars believe Columbus may have been born there. At any rate, Columbus’s fateful voyage was paid for by the government of Spain, not Genoa.

Columbus landed on the mainland

Columbus didn’t exactly pull up to shore on the East Coast of the United States. His first stop in North America was the island of San Salvador, which is presently part of the Bahamas.

Columbus was the first European in North America

While Columbus certainly wasn’t the first human to step foot in the Americas (millions of native peoples already lived there), he also wasn’t the first European explorer to make the trip. The mighty Viking leader Leif Eriksson stumbled onto Newfoundland around the year 1000—a good 500 years before Columbus hit the Bahamas. And while a lot of people get Columbus Day off of work or school, the day commemorating Eriksson’s journey goes largely unnoticed: October 9 is Leif Eriksson Day.

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