Here’s the first of a series from 2013. Bigfoodetc.com was still on the Blogger platform so I’ve cleaned it up a bit.
At the time, I captioned this thusly: “No. It’s not an obsession. It’s a mission.”
Michael H. Hart’s The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History has good ole’ Christopher Columbus as the ninth most influential person in history behind Muhammad, Isaac Newton, Jesus Christ, Budda, Confucius, St. Paul, Ts’ai Lun, and Johann Gutenberg.
The 100 was published in 1978 by Hart Publishing Company. The book and its author were– and are– controversial for a number of reasons, not the least of which are the ranking of Muhammad higher than Christ, and the author’s view that the United States should be “partitioned” into three nations.
Setting those issues aside, here’s what Hart says about Columbus:
It is obvious that Columbus’s first trip had a revolutionary impact upon European history, and an even greater effect of the Americas. The one date that every schoolchild knows is 1492. Still, there are several possible objections to ranking Columbus so high on the list.
(Is it still true that every schoolchild knows the significance of 1492?)
Objection The First: “Columbus was not the first European to discover the New World.” Lief Ericson (among others, I’ll add) had long before. Hart counters that Ericson was historically unimportant. News of his discovery was not widespread but “within a few years of [Columbus’s] return … many additional expeditions to the New World were made and conquest and colonization of the new territories began.”
Objection The Second: Someone was bound to discover America someday, what’s so great about Columbus? Hart argues true enough but 1) “subsequent developments” in the New World would have taken a different trajectory had the Americas been discovered by, for example, the French and 2) Columbus actually “did discover America.”
Objection The Third: Every educated European already knew the Earth was round– Aristotle said so. Hart gets around this objection by asserting that may well be, but Columbus didn’t show the Earth was round, he discover America and no 15th century Europeans– and certainly not Aristotle– “had any knowledge of the existence of the American continents.”
Hart’s concluding remarks about Columbus:
Columbus’s character was not entirely admirable. He was exceptionally avaricious; in fact, one important reason that Columbus encountered difficulties in persuading Isabella to finance him was that he drove an extremely greedy bargain. Also, though it may not be fair to judge him by today’s ethical standards, he treated the Indians with shocking cruelty. This is not, however, a list of the noblest characters in history, but rather of the most influential ones, and by that criterion Columbus deserves a place near the top of the list.