Across the USA, there is a movement brewing that is asking us to reconsider historical figures from the past, asking if we should continue to revere them today. Christopher Columbus is often brought up in these discussions, and for good reason—it is hard to reconcile his boldness and visionary qualities as an explorer with the fact that as an administrator he was a monster, even by the standards of the time.
Given the problematic nature of Columbus’s legacy, let me suggest that we remove him from the pantheon of cultural heroes, and replace him with a different figure from the Age of Exploration… a man who moved in the same circles as Columbus and experienced many of the same things as his contemporary did, and yet took a very different path. Let us consider life and times of Bartolomé de las Casas.
Back when I was a working Latin American historian, I wrote the following as an article for the Encyclopedia of American History: Three Worlds Meet – Beginnings to 1607 (Facts on File Press: 2003), which in the age of Wikipedia is long out of print. Because it’s a published work, I’ve pretty much left it as-is, retaining the format of an encyclopedia article. It has not been updated to reflect new research, nor have I updated the reading list at the end. Please note that the capitalized terms indicate linked entries in the print edition that curious readers could turn to for more information. Continue reading