General Question

sweetsweetstephy's avatar

Why do we credit Christopher Columbus with the discovery of the Americas instead of Leif Ericson?

Asked by sweetsweetstephy (338points) September 3rd, 2011

Why is this taught to elementary school kids? And why are the Native Americans who were here not taken into account?

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34 Answers

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dreamwolf's avatar

It’s what happened there after Columbus’s voyage that is important. His discovery, at his time, marked the beginning of the pilgrim movement, and the overall potential Americas as a new colony and establishment.

filmfann's avatar

Leif was an outlaw. His discovery of Canada wasn’t considered found by the Civilized world, and no migration ensued.
As for the indians, they weren’t civilized either.
Before Columbus, there were many rumors and stories of a land beyond the sea, but most did not believe.
Columbus, sponsered by Queen Isabella, was state sanctioned, and offical.

It’s been a long time since 3rd grade. Hope I got all that right.

Aethelflaed's avatar

In short, propaganda. It’s really easy to point to Columbus as this hero who proves the world isn’t flat (they didn’t think it was), and who then brings Europe out of the Middle Ages and into wonderful, wonderful colonialism. And then white men settle the world! Because non-white people don’t exist (or count), obviously. It’s almost like it’s institutionalized racist propaganda. Who would have thought that could happen, what with Congress deciding what children learn in public schools?

boxer3's avatar

I always asked the same thing, and furthermore,why do we golrify “Christopher Columbus Day” when really- the man was an asshole, and did a lot of terrible things- One of my friends goes to a college named after a group of Native Americans, they don’t aknowledge it as a holiday..

sweetsweetstephy's avatar

@filmfann I could see what you mean about the migration thing. Obviously his “discovery” was a turning point in history, as people started to move to the “new world.”
As for the natives (they were not Indians, they were not from India, Christopher Columbus just thought he had made it to the Indies) who’s to say they were not civilized? Perhaps in the eyes of the Europeans, but they had social structure complicated irrigation techniques and forms of government.

tedd's avatar

In the grand scheme of things we celebrate Columbus because it was his “discovery” that propelled the world into a new era, not the “discovery” of the Scandinavians or Native Americans before him. The Holiday, at least as I feel it was taught to me, is less to celebrate one guy miscalculated the size of the planet and thinking he was in Asia… and more about celebrating our world “becoming one” in a sense.

Love him or hate him, had it not been for him and his nagging of the Spanish crown… our planets history would be drastically different. No one else in Europe was even thinking of venturing west to get to Asia.

CWOTUS's avatar

It’s the way we always treat “private” vs. “public” enterprise. Leif Ericson was not funded as lavishly as Columbus was, didn’t have Ferdinand and Isabella as his patrons, and had zero PR when he returned home. And since it was a government-funded voyage it was recognized as “the official discovery” of the New World.

As for why the indigenous people weren’t recognized as the original “discoverers”, well, they weren’t European, so obviously they didn’t count. The Chinese may have been here before Columbus, too, anyway.

filmfann's avatar

@sweetsweetstephy The indians civilized? They didn’t put their salad forks on the outside left of the plate! Of course my use of that word was refering to the way the discoverers viewed themselves. As a matter of fact, I believe the word the Sioux used for themselves meant “Civilized Men”.

bkcunningham's avatar

I was taught about Christopher Columbus and Leif Ericson and Erik the Red in elementary school.

boxer3's avatar

@bkcunningham , I was too…. but Columbus was the chunk of the chapter and the others were just a paragraph.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@filmfann Leif Ericson was not an outlaw. His father and grandfather were outlaws, but he was not. As for the indigenous Americans, on what grounds do you say they weren’t civilized? And which tribes are you talking about (there were more than 1000 separate tribal nations prior to Columbus’ arrival).

As for what Europe knew before Columbus, vague stories weren’t everything. The Norse colonized both Greenland and a part of Newfoundland (called Vinland). The Greenland colony even lasted for five centuries. The Norse were well aware of what was over there, and our discoveries were recorded by historians in mainland Europe.

tedd's avatar

@SavoirFaire While you’re correct the Norse did colonize the New World a few centuries before Columbus.. They had no idea the scope of what they had found, or that it was another continent. They thought it to be just a few more islands, and their lack of interest is pretty clearly stated by the fact their colonies all died out with little to no support from their homelands. You also seem to not understand the sarcasm in the previous posters comments about the natives not being civilized.

Nullo's avatar

Because nothing really came of the Vikings’ discovery, I guess. Columbus brought Spain into the game, with historical results.


My question is “Why do we credit Columbus or Leif Ericsson at all?” It’s actually the Ancient Chinese who discovered the Americas first (aside from the Native Americans, who really were descendents of people from East Asia.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@tedd When I said “they were well aware of what was over there,” I meant that they knew they had found a new land. I didn’t mean to imply that they knew the scope or all of the specific details. That would be impossible while staying entirely on the east coast. But while our Vinland colony did die out rather quickly, Greenland lasted for five centuries. It began as an independent colony that became more and more involved with Europe over the first three centuries of its existence. There was quite a bit of contact between the colony and Norway until the end. Interest was strong in the beginning, but waned later. It was not absent throughout.

As for the comment made by @filmfann, there is no indication in the original response—which is what I was responding to—that sarcasm was being attempted.

YARNLADY's avatar

Politics. The European invaders were well publicized, and have been romanticized in school.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@MRSHINYSHOES Well, if we want to go that route, why do we credit the Chinese, who are merely decedents of Africans?

Berserker's avatar

I remember doing a project on Leif Ericson in school, and then started to wonder the same thing.
If I recall, (I’ll gladly stand corrected) people were aware of Columbus’s discovery long before they figured out some Viking actually found it first. And second, Ericson wasn’t able to stay, he got his ass kicked by the Indians, so he never managed to establish anything, unlike Columbus. And the whole founding thing is really what’s always the main point when it comes to the discovery of anything.

But yeah. Go Leif Ericson, he should get some damn credit, here. Well, actually he does, but eh.

zenvelo's avatar

It is debatable if the Spanish Colonization would have lasted if not for the discovery of gold and silver. Once it was realized there were significant deposits in the New World, conquest and settlement was inevitable.


@Aethelflaed Lol-lol. Yes, we’re all supposedly descended from primitive homo erectus from Africa. I’m not disputing that. But the real first people to discover the Americas were the Chinese, and the ones who settled here first were Native Americans and the Inuit (Eskimos), who share many characteristics with their Chinese brethren, being all of East Asian descent of course.

CWOTUS's avatar

The book Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick clears up some of the mystery about the Pilgrim landing and why it occurred unopposed by the indigenous people of what is now Massachusetts.

Apparently, the fishing grounds of the Grand Banks and Georges Banks (not called that then, of course) had long been known to European fishermen, who voyaged out there frequently. However, there were also frequent shipwrecks, dory fishermen lost in fog and storms and other castaways, too. Some of those undoubtedly landed in present day New England to winter over and wait for rescue during the following fishing season. (Since they didn’t have families, but had left them behind while they fished, they weren’t about to colonize the place, simply survive as long as needed, and then leave.)

Undoubtedly also, this was the primary vector that eventually introduced smallpox into the New World in that place, because when the Pilgrims landed in 1620 the native populations had been recently decimated (almost literally, reduced by 75% or more) by that disease and were still suffering. They were in no condition to oppose a landing by the Pilgrims. This also helps to explain why one of the natives, Squanto, spoke English: he had learned it from fishermen and occasional coastal sailors visiting the mainland.

I would not be surprised to find that the natives rebuffed the Viking landings, if they were unaffected by disease at that time and in great numbers. After all, we’re talking about Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Cape Cod. People still aren’t allowed to walk the beaches unopposed.

mazingerz88's avatar

He shouldn’t really. Doesn’t matter if his landing changed world history. He did not discover this land. But try telling that to a mob guy in New Jersey.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@CWOTUS Squanto also learned quite a lot of english from his time spent with a ship builder in London.

ragingloli's avatar

Why not the native americans instead?

Lightlyseared's avatar

@ragingloli it doesn’t count if you were already there. That’s cheating. ;)

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Symbeline While there were hostilities between the Norse settlers and the indigenous Americans, Leif Ericson and company did manage to establish colonies in North America. One even lasted for five centuries. It’s actually strange that Columbus is more celebrated in the US than anywhere else given that he never actually set foot in North America. His voyages took him to the coasts of Central and South America, as well as to various islands in the Caribbean.

Berserker's avatar

@SavoirFaire Yeah, I’m aware that he did try to stay. There’s even a Viking landing site in Winnipeg, it’s now a community and camping resort. Went camping there a few times when I was younger.
It’s called Gimli, although I have no idea if this place has anything to do with Leif. I’m unsure of where in Canada he went exactly, although I know my project covered that, but I forgot lol.

-edit After reading the art and culture thing, this place isn’t an actual landing site. Nevermind lol. XD

CWOTUS's avatar

Say what, @Symbeline ?

From the link you posted: (Bolding by me)
The community of Gimli began with an idea for a colony of Icelanders within Canada which would allow them full citizenship and unhindered rights to preserve their language and culture. The Canadian Government granted Icelandic immigrants land on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg from the northern boundary of the province of Manitoba extending thirty-six miles to the Icelandic River and inland extending about ten miles. They named the region New Iceland.

The first non-native settlers arrived in the Gimli area on October 21, 1875. This group of about 235 Icelanders formed the beginnings of the present community. Immigration was almost exclusively from Iceland for the next 22 years. In 1895 a trickle of immigrants from the Ukraine settled in the area and by 1897 the area was opened up to any immigrant wishing to settle in the area. Immigrants from Iceland and Ukraine continued to arrive and others from Poland and to a lesser extent Germany and Hungary dominated the new immigration but other Canadians and new immigrants arrived as well.

Berserker's avatar

Yeah, there were already people in Canada besides Indians when that place was set up. I edited to point out that what I was saying was bullshit. XD

sugabelly's avatar

Maybe you shouldn’t be crediting EITHER of them with the discovery of the Americas since loads of people ALREADY lived there. (i.e. Native Americans and Incas, Aztecs and so on)

Bagardbilla's avatar

Victors write history (as they see fit, therefore believe it with more then a few grains of salt).

mattbrowne's avatar

Most contemporary schools teach the fact that Columbus was not the first to discover America and rather the first explorer whose voyages led to general European awareness of the American continents in the Western Hemisphere.

Nullo's avatar

Amerigo Vespucci doesn’t get nearly enough emphasis in school, considering that he’s the reason we call ‘em “The Americas.”

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