Cristopher Columbus, Mariner Essay - Critical Context

Samuel Eliot Morison

Critical Context

Christopher Columbus, Mariner is a scholarly historical work by the United States’ most eminent naval historian. The book is appropriate for the young reader, however, because it is a complete rewrite of Admiral of the Ocean Sea with a view to reaching a broader public. The vocabulary should be understood by the teenage reader, and those interested in adventure will be fascinated by this re-creation of an exploration that involved considerably more risk and daring than twentieth century ventures into space. Columbus and his crew members did not know where they were going or how long it would take, and they could not maintain contact with home while they were at sea. Morison’s viewpoint is that of a sailor, and perhaps only another sailor can fully appreciate the accomplishments of this fifteenth century mariner.

While the thrust of this work does not lose value as a result of its publication date, its interpretation of the significance of Columbus’ voyages has been disputed by subsequent scholars. Morison’s emphasis throughout is on the greatness of the accomplishment of an explorer of the fifteenth century. He does not believe that “the claims of others to be the ‘real’ discoverers of America” in any way diminish Columbus’ achievements. He also concludes that Columbus’ “fame and reputation may be considered secure for all time.” While Morison’s interpretations of some events have been questioned, his scholarship, knowledge of navigational techniques, and contribution to the literature on Columbus have not been surpassed. Admiral of the Ocean Sea and the shorter Christopher Columbus, Mariner will remain valuable historical sources among biographies of Columbus.