Christopher Columbus Research Paper

This sample Christopher Columbus Research Paper is published for educational and informational purposes only. Free research papers are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality research paper on history topics at affordable price please use custom research paper writing services.

History’s portrayal of Christopher Columbus, which varies from hero to destroyer, often overshadows the man and his achievements. The European explorer who first set sail for the Americas in 1492 failed in his mission to find a route to the East Indies, but his journeys to the Americas sparked an era of unprecedented exchange between the Old and New Worlds.

Christopher Columbus is a tabula rasa, a blank slate upon which scholars of European overseas expansion inscribe their opinions about the significance of the man and the expansion. For some Columbus is a romantic figure, the last medieval crusader, whereas for others he is the first modern man, the man who first sloughed off the chains that had limited human development. People once saw him as initiating the civilizing and Christianizing process in the Americas, but now people condemn him for initiating slavery and genocide. His greatest claim to fame, however, is that he initiated the process that revealed the true nature of the Earth’s surface and demonstrated that the seas are not an obstacle to worldwide communication but rather highways that can link all humankind.

All of these perceptions of Columbus mask the real man, obscuring his endeavors under a blanket of myths that reduces a complex individual to a stick figure. The difficulties involved in presenting the real Columbus are not, however, solely the responsibility of modern scholarship. The first person to generate a mythical Columbus was the explorer himself.

Columbus’s early life is especially murky, a fact that has given rise to a number of imaginative theories about his origins. The best evidence, however, indicates that he was born in Genoa, Italy, around 1451, the son of a weaver and his wife. Initially trained to practice his father’s trade, Columbus went to sea, as Genoese men often did. He sailed much of the Mediterranean before moving to Lisbon, Portugal, where his older brother, Bartholomew, was a chart maker.

Lisbon was the goal for Genoese seamen, merchants, and bankers who were seeking new routes to the East to replace the colonies along the Black Sea that had once linked Genoa to the East but that were now in Muslim hands. Portugal attracted the Genoese because Portuguese sailors were sailing down the west coast of Africa and out into the Atlantic, where they had discovered four island chains: Canary, Cape Verde, Madeira, and Azores. To the Genoese these voyages held out the promise of finding a water route that would give them direct access to the markets of the Indies. In Portugal Columbus came to know the Atlantic as he participated in voyages to ports in the Gulf of Guinea, to the Azores, Ireland, perhaps even to Iceland.

Just as we cannot draw a precise map of Columbus’s travels, we do not know the extent of his formal knowledge of geography and related matters. He claimed to have read the Roman scholar Pliny’s Natural History and the works of contemporary cosmographers (scientists who study the visible universe) such as the Italian Paolo Toscanelli and the Venetian traveler Marco Polo, a copy of whose book Columbus annotated. He was also acquainted with the tradition that foretold the preaching of the Gospel to all humankind followed by the end of the world.

During the forty years preceding his first voyage, Columbus acquired a great deal of knowledge about and experience of the Atlantic world, not all of which proved accurate. For example, he asserted that the circumference of the Earth is approximately 32,000 kilometers instead of 40,000 kilometers, the estimate that was accepted by some of his critics and that was close to accurate. His error was linked to his search for patronage: by accepting the smaller estimate of the Earth’s size and by accepting the theory that the surface of the Earth is largely land, not water, he was able to make the notion of reaching Asia by sailing west more attractive. A short trip of a few weeks would bring him to the Indies.

Obviously, Columbus did not achieve what he set out to achieve, although he never accepted that fact. His four voyages to the New World—1492–1493, 1493–1496, 1498–1500, and 1502–1504—never reached Asia and never found the trade route that he sought. Seen in that light, he was a failure.

Seen in terms of world history, however, Columbus achieved a great deal. His voyages demonstrated that the Atlantic could be crossed and recrossed in relative safety. This fact in turn encouraged others to extend the range of exploring expeditions, eventually leading to the Spanish explorer Balboa’s discovery of the Pacific Ocean in 1513 and then to the Portuguese navigator Magellan’s fleet circumnavigating the globe during the period 1519–1522. These voyages showed Europeans the locations and size of the Earth’s oceans and allowed ships to reach every shore except where Arctic and Antarctic ice blocked the way. New contacts multiplied, crops and diseases spread, and a new era of world history came swiftly on stream as sailors, colonists and conquerors collided with Amerindians and other previously isolated peoples around the Earth.

Columbus pioneered this new era; but his reputation has since fluctuated from heroic to hateful. After 1776 American revolutionaries toyed with the idea of treating him as the founder of their new nation, and named the District of Columbia accordingly. In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exhibition at Chicago celebrated the 400th anniversary of his voyage whole heartedly. Then in the twentieth century, Italian immigrants began to parade on Columbus Day, claiming him as their own special hero. But when the 500th anniversary came round in 1993, critics damped official attempts at celebration, accusing Columbus of responsibility for destroying the Amerindians and upsetting the natural balances of the New World.


  1. Fernandez-Armesto, F. (1992). Columbus. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.
  2. Flint, V. I. E. (1992). The imaginative landscape of Christopher Columbus. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  3. Morison, S. E. (1942). Admiral of the ocean sea. Boston: Little, Brown.
  4. Morison, S. E. (Trans. & Ed.). (1963). Journals and other documents on the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus. New York: Heritage Press.
  5. Phillips, W. D., Jr., & Phillips, C. R. (1992). The worlds of Christopher Columbus. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
  6. Watts, P. M. (1985). Prophesy and discovery: On the spiritual origins of Christopher Columbus’s “enterprise of the Indies.” American Historical Review, 90(1), 73–102.

See also:

Free research papers are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to buy a custom research paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price.


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality
Special offer! Get discount 10% for the first order. Promo code: cd1a428655