Did Columbus Discover The New World?
Updated: Feb 21
GOAL: Revisionists love to play word games and disingenuously change the definition of words to push their historical propaganda. In Columbus' case they love to say, you can't discover land if someone's already living there. This lesson will help students understand why someone CAN honestly say Columbus discovered the New World.
This part can be given as a homework assignment before the actual lesson is taught:
On a piece of paper have the students write out the definition of the word "Discover". This is from the American Heritage Dictionary:
To notice or learn, especially by making an effort.
To be the first, or the first of one's group or kind, to find, learn of, or observe.
To learn about for the first time in one's experience.
ASK: "On the sheet of paper write a story of something you discovered. It can be a park, a playground, a new way to get somewhere. Who did you tell? Did it improve your life? Did it make anything better?"
Pick on one or more students and ask them to read their story aloud in class.
After each story is read, ask the class, "Let's apply this to the definition.":
"Did [ex. Emily] notice or learn something new?
"Do you think she was the first person to ever learn this?"
A: Probably not; depends.
"Do you think she was the first person in her [family or group of friends; depending on the story] to learn this?"
"Did she learn about it for the first time in her experience?"
Now show the class the following maps:
5. This is the world as it was known during Columbus' time. As you can see, no civilization from Portugal to Japan had the Caribean Islands, North, Central, or South America on their maps. When Columbus sailed West he landed on islands that had never been mapped. These lands were inhabited by natives who he believed to be Indians. In his 4 voyages he also landed in Central America and explored the Northern part of South America."
6. So even though there were natives already living in the "New World", did Columbus make a discovery?
"Did Columbus make an effort and notice or learn something new?
"Do you think Columbus was the FIRST person to learn of these islands and main lands?"
A: In a Global sense: no, because natives were here and they obviously knew of their lands.
"Do you think Columbus was the first person in his group or kind [of the Old World; Europe-Asia] to learn this?"
"Did Columbus learn about it for the first time in his experience?"
7. So one can easily see that Columbus DID discover the New World. It was his discovery that opened the way for other explorers like Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot), Amerigo Vespucci, Ferdinand Magellan, and many others to come and make discoveries of their own and map out the New World.
EXTRA ACTIVITY: GRADES (1-2): Have the students color in the ship and draw in the box what they think Columbus discovered in the new world
CRITICAL THINKING (Grades 6+): Revisionist's improperly use the word "discover" and try to mock Columbus and diminish his accomplishments by saying, "You can't discover something that's already there." So according to their faulty logic should we make fun of astronomers every time they discover a new planet, galaxy, or star system? They didn't discover anything, those celestial bodies have been there for millenia.
Or how about this, they love to ridicule Columbus and say he was lost at sea. But Columbus knew what direction he was traveling in and he knew what to look for. As an explorer, you set out into the unknown to discover and make known new lands, species, bodies of water, etc... By their inadequate logic we should ridicule every explorer in history because they were all lost as well. Should we make fun of the following people and not celebrate them for their intrepidness and bravery?