Saturday, August 18, 2007

1502

The Discoveries of America--yes, I'm putting it into the plural. It seems like everyone was there before Columbus, like the English and the Chinese before them. Of course, the first people there were the Vikings ... and, er, the Native Americans (... or aliens).

Discovery, however, is not well defined. At Albion's Seedlings, Peter Saint-Andre argues that England discovered America first, albeit its presence evolved very slowly.
Yet it appears that North America was discovered first, by venturesome sailors from the English port of Bristol who maintained an active trade with Iceland starting in the 1300s and who fished the Grand Banks off Newfoundland as early as 1481. News of these fisheries — and land or islands sighted to the west thereof — filtered down to Portugal and Spain, probably inspiring (in part) the voyages of Columbus. ... Despite the fact that the English seem to have discovered new lands to the west before the Spanish did, their colonization efforts lagged.
Anglers find fertile waters, a few new rocks. Peter underplays the effects of the so-called discovery. Indeed, the Vikings knew of many of the same areas of modern maritime Canada. Even after their colonies in Vinland failed, Greenlanders revisited the territories for logging. Moreover, we ought to consider Greenland to be the first European colony in the Americans. Because settlement was not permanent, the honor is withheld.

More importantly, the Viking discovery, like Richard Amerike's, didn't affect the European imagination. Finding new land was not earth-shattering; mariners had done it many times. Finding a new world was. "The Discovery of America", a term fraught with difficulties, ought to relate to changes of European intellect and culture. This means the processes that would lead to permanent settlement.

Moreover, it should reflect those processes that inspired the cartographic imagination, turning the Americas into knowledge. Amerigo Vespucci's Mundus Novus put the newly discovered territories in global context by attending to their geography and changing how Europeans saw the world.

Let's give props to the real discoverer of America: Amerigo Vespucci, the man who put America on the map (or, at least, got Waldseemuller to put it on the map).

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