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The Legacy of Christopher Columbus in the Americas

New Nations and a Transatlantic Discourse of Empire

Elise Bartosik-Velez

Publication Year: 2014

Why is the capital of the United States named in part after Christopher Columbus, a Genoese explorer commissioned by Spain who never set foot on what would become the nation's mainland? Why did Spanish American nationalists in 1819 name a new independent republic "Colombia," after Columbus, the first representative of empire from which they recently broke free? These are only two of the introductory questions explored in The Legacy of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, a fundamental recasting of Columbus as an eminently powerful tool in imperial constructs.

Bartosik-Velez seeks to explain the meaning of Christopher Columbus throughout the so-called New World, first in the British American colonies and the United States, as well as in Spanish America, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She argues that, during the pre- and post-revolutionary periods, New World societies commonly imagined themselves as legitimate and powerful independent political entities by comparing themselves to the classical empires of Greece and Rome. Columbus, who had been construed as a figure of empire for centuries, fit perfectly into that framework. By adopting him as a national symbol, New World nationalists appeal to Old World notions of empire.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. ix-xi

Many people helped me as I wrote this book. Michael Palencia-Roth has been an unfailing mentor and model of ethical, rigorous scholarship and human compassion. I am grateful for his generous help at many stages of writing this manuscript...

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pp. 1-14

Why is the District of Columbia, the capital of the United States, named after Christopher Columbus, a Genoese explorer commissioned by Spain who never set foot on the future US mainland? Why did Spanish Americans in 1819 name the...

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1. Columbus’s Appropriation of Imperial Discourse

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pp. 15-43

Christopher Columbus has long been the subject of disagreement among historians. The protracted debate about his origins, whether he was Genoan, Spanish, Jewish, Catalán, etc., is merely the tip of the iceberg that seems to have had a special...

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2. The Incorporation of Columbus into the Story of Western Empire

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pp. 44-65

Woodcuts of Columbus’s ships illustrate the 1493 Basle edition of Columbus’s popular “Letter on the Discovery.” Nine years later, these same woodcuts were reused to illustrate not a text written by or about Columbus, but a popular edition of Virgil’s works...

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3. Columbus and the Republican Empire of the United States

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pp. 66-105

By the eighteenth century, Columbus was commonly represented in Europe according to an interpretive tradition that had enveloped him as a protagonist in the classic Western story of imperial conquest and domination. Many of the texts that formed...

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4. Colombia: Discourses of Empire in Spanish America

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pp. 106-144

Before Colombia was declared an independent state in 1819, the terms “Colombia” and “Colombiano” were used by many Spanish American patriots to mean “America” and “American,” just as the corresponding terms in English were used in the North...

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Conclusion: The Meaning of Empire in Nationalist Discourses of the United States and Spanish America

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pp. 145-152

As discussed in detail in the Introduction, in the last decade or so an increasing number of scholars have critiqued the dominance of the nation-state as a unit of analysis. In doing so, they have challenged exceptionalist views of US history, according...


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pp. 153-178

Works Cited

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pp. 179-194


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pp. 195-201

E-ISBN-13: 9780826519559
E-ISBN-10: 0826519555
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826519535
Print-ISBN-10: 0826519539

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2014