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History As It Happens

Oct 7, 2021

Christopher Columbus, a Genoese navigator, never knew America existed. He did not step foot in North America; until his death he believed he had reached the outskirts of China. Yet Columbus became an American hero, the story of his voyages woven into the U.S. origin story by historians in the early nineteenth century. Today, his public image may be at its lowest point since Americans began celebrating the anniversary of his first trans-Atlantic voyage. Since the summer of 2020, dozens of Columbus statues were removed by local officials in cities and towns nationwide. This anti-Columbus sentiment flowed from the massive protests against racism and police brutality that broke out after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Thus, if the story of America were one of racial oppression and genocide, then it began with Columbus in 1492. His history-changing accomplishments now seem to matter little in light of his failures and faults, especially at a time of highly racialized politics and Woke culture wars. In this episode, acclaimed biographer and historian Laurence Bergreen discusses the many faces of Christopher Columbus as well as the myths, good and bad, that continue to cloud our modern understanding of his life.