Columbus

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He promptly set about the task of bringing the gifts of Spanish law, religion, language and culture to the new realm he claimed in the name of the Spanish sovereigns, Ferdinand and Isabella.Everyone knows that the men on the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María first saw the sun rise over Hispaniola (now the island that contains Haiti and the Dominican Republic) in the year 1492. Some of uswill also recall that that was an important year for several other reasons: After a 700-year struggle, the Catholic Ibero-Celts of the various nascent Spanish kingdoms pushed the Muslim Moors back toAfrica, ending a period in which, at certain times and places, Christians, Muslims and Jews had worked together to build a unique and beautiful polity; although this hybrid civilization was always underthreat from the forces of Christian and Islamic reaction. Indeed, at other times and places during this period, the reactionaries won out. There were many kingdoms in the fragmented peninsula, withmany different ideas about culture and heresy

they would rule Catholic lands as Catholic monarchs. Jews and Muslims had three choices: Conversion, exile, or death.

What very few of us will knowis that the day that Colón departed the Spanish port of Palos -- August 3, 1492 -- was the deadline for the Jews to leave Spain. And this was no coincidence.

I would begin my Columbus Day lessonby saying that Columbus was a very important figure in history.

"NO! He was a bad man! This is white peoples' history! We don't think much of Columbus."

I told them that "important" did notnecessarily mean "good." It was a useful introduction to the study of history, and how historians think about these words. I told them about those three ships -- we imagine huge floating fortresses, butColumbus' ships were shockingly tiny for an open ocean crossing, two small caravels and the flagship Santa María, a carrack -- making their way out of Palos that morning, on a voyage longer and more...
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