America Before America: Reconsidering the Legacy of Christopher Columbus

University of Southern California

Peter C. Mancall is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities and Professor of History and Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He also serves as Director of the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute. Before taking his position at USC, he held teaching positions at the University of Kansas and Harvard University. Professor Mancall received two teaching excellence awards at the University of Kansas and in 2004 was named a Gamma Sigma Alpha Professor of the Year by the University of Southern California.  From 2019-2020 he was the Harmsworth Professor of American History at Oxford University.


“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” That rhyme has long been how American students were introduced to Christopher Columbus in elementary school. Students are taught that Columbus is the one who discovered the Americas, sailing across the Atlantic in his three ships: The Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. The Italian explorer is even celebrated every October during a federal holiday named after him. But the man credited for discovering the “New World” is considered a contentious figure in US history for his treatment of the indigenous communities he encountered and for his role in the violent colonization at their expense. Statues of Christopher Columbus are being dismounted across the country. So what did Columbus really do and should he being labeled as a “tyrant” rather than the hero we were always taught to believe?



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