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McREL Standards Activity

Interpreting Christopher Columbus

Purpose:As a result of this activity, students will understand that historical interpretations vary.
Related Standard & Benchmarks:
United States History
 Standard 2.Understands cultural and ecological interactions among previously unconnected people resulting from early European exploration and colonization
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 3. Understands how interpretations of Columbus' voyages and his interactions with indigenous peoples have changed (e.g., between 1892 and 1992)
Historical Understanding
 Standard 2.Understands the historical perspective
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 9. Analyzes how specific historical events would be interpreted differently based on newly uncovered records and/or information
Historical Understanding
 Standard 2.Understands the historical perspective
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 11. Knows how to perceive past events with historical empathy
Language Arts
 Standard 1.Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
   Level IV [Grade 9-12]
   Benchmark 9. Writes compositions employing persuasion (e.g., uses rhetorical techniques, such as appeal to logic and emotion; relates personal anecdotes; cites commonly accepted beliefs or expert opinion; anticipates readers’ knowledge level, concerns, values, and potential biases) and argument (e.g., articulates a thesis statement or claim; establishes clear relationships among claim(s), opposing and counterclaims; reasons, and evidence; identifies strengths and limitations of own arguments and counterarguments; provides a concluding statement that follows from general argument)
Student Product:A newspaper or magazine editorial
Material & Resources:The following web site contains some information about Christopher Columbus and might be useful in this activity:
Teacher's Note:The teacher will want to gather a variety of materials (e.g., textbooks, newspaper and magazine articles, books) concerning Christopher Columbus and his role in history.
Controversy over Christopher Columbus is not a recent phenomena. According to a Denver Post article, in 1892 on the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyages, Harper’s Magazine referred to him as a "pirate" and listed him among "history’s least pleasing characters" and another publication of that time, The Dial, referred to his voyages as "a pitiful record of misfortunes." In recent history, disagreement over the Columbus Day Parade has instigated a great deal of conflict. Many Native American groups oppose the parade because they view the voyages of Columbus as the first in a long line of European conquests of their culture. Many Italian American groups, on the other hand, support Columbus Day as an event that allows them to express their ethnic pride. Historians seem to favor more objective views of Columbus, that he was a product of his times, a person who simply acted within the parameters of his historical context.

Use a variety of teacher-gathered sources to locate information about Columbus and his voyages. Then, address the following questions in a persuasive essay: 1) How have interpretations of Columbus changed over time? and 2) Have newly uncovered records or information influenced how Columbus has been viewed? If so, how? Once you have addressed these questions, provide your own interpretation of Columbus and how his voyages influenced different indigenous groups and the development of the United States. Use a variety of sources and specific examples to support your argument.