Lowene argues, “The authors of history textbooks have taken us on a trip of their own, away from the facts of history, into the realm of myth.” Today, high school history classes teach students about historical figures through facts and memorization; this makes a student’s base of history untrustworthy. As historical events regress further into the past, writers may misinterpret facts that they may have studied. A story of discovery and friendship or a story of conquest, murder, and greed, which of these is Christopher Columbus’ true story. I believe that Columbus’ story should be taught through historiography. In historiography, the student learns to compare and distinguish different outlooks from different writers’ viewpoints. For example, if a specific writer approaches an event from the perspective of his preferred political party, examining the angles, ideas, and magnitudes of their decisions, he would write to view them in an advantageous way.
Boring! This is what American high school history class have come down too; every year history teachers stress the importance of students remembering important dates and facts. With today’s technology, students have information readily available and today’s generation can consume mass information of facts in a short amount of time. Introducing historiography would introduce critical thinking at an earlier age, historiography would guide and force students to learn history through a diverse set of historians who focused on the same subject and come to different conclusions; this sets a better understanding of a subject, and opens up a wider class discussion dialog.
Take, for example, Washington Irving; Irving was a Nineteenth-century writer that spent years in Europe studying the life of Columbus. Irving was one of the first American writers focused on subjects and themes of American life. He wrote a four-volume biography of Columbus portrayed the explorer as an American icon, portraying him in brave and heroic terms. “Columbus was a man of great and inventive genius . . . His ambition was lofty and noble, inspiring him with high thoughts, and an anxiety to distinguish himself by great achievements . . . His conduct was characterized by the grandeur of his views and the magnanimity nobility of his spirit. Instead of ravaging plundering the newly found countries, . . . he sought to colonize and cultivate them, to civilize the natives . . . A valiant and indignant spirit . . . a visionary of an uncommon kind.” More than a century after Irving, historian Samuel Eliot Morison portrayed Columbus as a real person with both strengths and flaws. Morison, a naval historian, focused on Columbus’s skills as a mariner, or sailor and navigator.
Writer and environmentalist Kirkpatrick Sale is far more critical of Columbus. In a 1990 book, Sale portrays Columbus as a ruthless fortune hunter who set in motion the destruction of native peoples and the American landscape that continues to this day. Sale also takes issue with the view of Columbus as a “master mariner.” For all his navigational skill, about which the salty types make such a fuss, and all his fortuitous headings accidental but lucky directions, about which they are largely silent, Admiral Colón Columbus could be a wretched mariner. “The four voyages, properly seen quite apart from bravery and fortitude endurance, are replete filled with lubberly clumsy mistakes, misconceived sailing plans, foolish disregard of elementary maintenance, and stubborn neglect of basic safety . . . Almost every time Colón went wrong it was because he had refused to bend to the inevitabilities of tide and wind and reef or, more arrogantly still, had not bothered to learn about them; the very same reckless courage that led him across the ocean in the first place, and saw him through storm and tumult to return, lay behind his numerous misfortunes.”