How Texas Discovered Columbus: The Columbia Legacy in Texas Textbooks, 1919–2017

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM
Washington Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Michael Horton, University of Miami
Christopher Columbus is currently a very polarizing figure in the United States. Some praise him for his accomplishments as a navigator and his connecting of Europe to the Americas, while others highlight his faults as a leader and connect him to the brutal treatment of the natives he encountered. This debate stands in contrast to 1892, when Christopher Columbus was universally viewed as a hero during the four-hundred-year anniversary of his landing. During the 1890s Columbus was immortalized through numerous publications, parades, poems, and plays telling the story of Columbus’s “voyage of discovery”. The iconic image of Columbus created during the close of the nineteenth century would endure for the next hundred years. Not until 1992, the five-hundred-year anniversary of his voyage, did Columbus receive a tidal wave of criticism.

Columbus’s enduring legacy can be attributed to the ways in which his story is conveyed to junior high and high school students. Since textbooks are relied upon so heavily in the education of these students, it is very important to track the changes made in the educational material over the course of time. New historical scholarship emerges in every era, and this paper tracks historical scholarship on Columbus and its relation to the information provided in junior high and high school textbooks. This paper shows that information in history textbooks is unacceptably behind the scholarship. Old views of Columbus have been preserved despite new scholarship that contradicts the traditional portrayal of Columbus.

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