EMPIRES OF SCIENCE
In 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus made history when he set foot on dry land after sailing for two months from Europe. The land he discovered became known as the New World. When he started his journey, Columbus left behind a continent ripped by turmoil. But it was also a time dominated by the widespread of knowledge imported from Venice, and circulated because of the Italian Renaissance. Up until that point, most people in Europe believed that there was one landmass separated from the end of the world by an ocean. There was nothing to show what was beyond that large body of water. Historically, there was already a medieval overland trade route established between the East and West. But camel caravans had to pass through a brutal terrain marked by rugged mountains and vast open deserts, with danger lurking at every major crossroad of the famous Silk Route.
Hence, Columbus’s mission was to open a sea channel that connects Europe with India, China and Central Asia. He had read Marco Polo’s book of travels in China and was convinced the world is a sphere. He also miscalculated the width of the Atlantic Ocean and the distance to the land lying on the other side. Therefore, the uncertainty in his plans failed to convince the royal monarchs of Italy, Portugal, France and Britain to fund the voyage of fancy exploration. But finally, after several years of setbacks, Columbus managed to win the support of the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who became patrons of his transatlantic voyage. It came with the promise that if the Italian explorer succeeded, he would be given the rank of Admiral of the Ocean Sea, and appointed Viceroy and Governor of all the new lands he could claim for Spain.
Once he set sail westwards, Columbus had no reason to believe that he was heading anywhere but straight for Asia. So when he reached San Salvador Island, known to the natives as Guanahani, he was convinced he had found land off the Asian land mass. Using sign language Columbus and his crew managed to communicate with the hospitable islanders who indicated the existence of other inhabitants, on other numerous islands scattered around the vast ocean. And in a week with the help of the natives, the foreign visitors hopped around from island to island discovering new nations, exotic plants and birds. Later, Columbus sailed around to discover Hispaniola - the second largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba - which is now divided between two sovereign nations; the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic, and French-speaking Haiti.
Christopher Columbus immediately established a small settlement there, and left behind a few dozen men to guard it. He then set sail back home to report to his patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the results of his voyage taking with him some islanders as slaves for the Spanish court. Columbus then returned for a second time to Hispaniola with a fleet of 17 ships, equipped with all the necessary materials needed to establish a bigger and more permanent settlement on the Caribbean island. This time, however, the natives weren’t as friendly having worked out the true intention of the foreigners and their obsession with gold. Eventually, the two cultures went to war with the Spaniards refusing to be intimidated by what Columbus described as barbarians, and the islanders refusing to bow down and be enslaved on their own land. Thus, this initial contact between the Spanish Conquistadors and the native population was totally negative because of Christopher Columbus‘s bigotry leadership. You can read this story and think of Columbus as one of the greatest explorers who made a herculean contribution to the advancement of the Industrialisation Age. Alternatively, you could also think of him as a cruel and greedy opportunist who aided the destruction of one civilisation, while aiming to build another.