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Earliest discovery of America? Are students in American schools and Universities taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America or  the American Indians? Also, if so what is the name of the original Indian person, or Tribe, (or Tribes) who discovered America? Why do you all think American Indians are not given the same value and credit as other European adventurers?

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James Worthy eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Growing up in the American public school system, Columbus had quite a prominent position in the discussion of the "discovery of America."  Now as a teacher in that same public school system, I can say that many schools have adopted a more "open minded" approach to this particular topic.  As I always tell my students, there is evidence of Vikings (Ericson) coming to the Americas before Columbus... I've even read a few books on a theory that Chinese explorers might have come within a day or two from the coast of California before Columbus' time (not sure of that one myself, but the theory is out there).  And as my students have pointed out; it's hard to say that anyone of these folks "discovered" America if there were already native people there.

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marbar57 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Well, I'm a Mormon and we are taught in the Book of Mormon that the first settlers to this continent were the Jaredites, who came over when the Tower of Babel was built in the Middle East.  The second group to come to the Americas was the Nephites, about 600 BC.  The Lamanites split from the original group of Nephites and eventually wiped them out.  Today's modern Native Americans are descendents of the Lamanites and were already here when all the European explorers came over. 

I don't expect many people to swallow my beliefs, but it very clearly explains to me that all Indian tribes should get credit for "discovering" America.  Europeans, and later the American people as a whole, never really gave the Indians their fair share of everything, never tried to understand them, and never honored them as the original stewards of this great land. 

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Lorna Stowers eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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As a high school teacher, I have had many students come to me upset after learning that Columbus was not the first to discover America. These students feel mislead by their earlier education (teaching Columbus was the first). I tend to believe that no one really "discovered" America (given it was already inhabited when non-Americans came).

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Alec Cranford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Generally, the earliest settlers in America are known as Paleoindians, and they came in waves, probably from different locations, as there are two or three distinct genetic patterns, broadly speaking, among Native groups. It is also possible that people from Polynesian islands came in contact with South American peoples before Columbus, and probably even before the Vikings. The thing is that America itself didn't exist before Columbus. It was a historical and geographical construct created by Europeans. The contact initiated by Columbus, whether a "discovery" or not, opened the door for the creation of a very different world than had previously existed on both sides of the Atlantic.

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Inuk Lee eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I think most people know that the first settlers in the Americas were not those who came with Christopher Columbus. There is evidence that the Vikings came earlier to places in present day Canada. In addition, there are some ideas that people came across the Bearing Straight during the Ice Age. Due to the fact that much has been lost due to time, we have to admit ignorance in many ways.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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We believe that the first "Native Americans" made it to the Americas as much as 25,000 years ago.  Given this fact, and the fact that these were not literate civilizations, there is no way to have any idea as to what the first people to come to the Americas called themselves.  We simply cannot know anything much about those first colonizers.

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In addition, there is also some fringe evidence that suggest the Portuguese were in the Americas before Christopher Columbus.  Their role in the changing of the Line of Demarcation also gives a pretty good idea that they were aware of the new continent.

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pacorz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is a lot of professional research out there indicating that the Vikings landed in North America long before Columbus did; some schools are adding that information to the curriculum now.

I don't believe anyone knows the name of the original tribe that first colonized the Americas; we don't even have a reliable date for that colonization at this point. Certainly they arrived long enough ago to give rise to a number of different groups of Native Americans, with distinctly different physiological traits as well as distinct traditions, languages and societies. Unfortunately a number of these groups have either vanished or been assimilated to the point of losing their native languages, which has made it difficult to trace their travels and ancestry.


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Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Your question is an interesting one and not easy to answer, however, it seems that the US educational attitude is increasingly leaning toward a better intercultural understanding than in previous eras which means that students today are much more likely to hear about Columbus within a stated context.

He was the first "westerner" to sail to North America. The ideas of "first ever" and "discovery" are more likely to be contextualized, erased or filtered out today than they were years ago. 


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jjrichardson | Student

He made four voyages to the Americas, with his first in 1492, which resulted in what is widely referred to as the Discovery of America or Discovery of the Americas. 

truthseekah | Student

Most definitely, Columbus gets the lion's share of credit for "discovering" America in our schools.  Native Americans were seen as savages and probably more like animals at that time and for many years later.  Since animals can't discover themselves in this perspective, the mighty Columbus is the savior.

I agree that there is ample evidence out there that Columbus was not the first European, however, we are a stubborn bunch when it comes to change.

mathexplosion | Student

The first person to discover or come to the "New World," was Leif Ericson.  His father was a big explorer from the Netherlands, anyway, he, his family, and some friends were banished from The Netherlands and went to Greenland.  It came time where Leif was old enough to go out on his own, he became homesick and went back to The Netherlands.  From there, he went to Portugal and consulted the king and queen of Portugal.  He told them that he wanted to explore and find out what was west of them.  Eventually the king and queen sponsored him and he was off.  Eventually, he made it to the "New World."  So technically, he made it there first, but never left any documentation.

etotheeyepi | Student

The precolumbian residents of the American continents did some cool stuff.  For exmaple they invented agriculture, they discovered platinum, they invented written language, they discovered chocolate (I'd rather be in chocolate than in love), they counted like Lincoln (four score and seven ...) and they ripped out hearts in bloody human sacrifcies, but I don't see how they discovered the Amercian continents. Seems to me one cannot know that here is here unless one knows that there is there.

Maybe I could change my mind if historians or archaeologist discover that the precolumbians knew of the existence of anything in Eurasia.

jesseravenclaw | Student

The good news is they are now. Although emphasis is placed  on Tasman, a growing  body of  literature written about Maori history and both histories has led to a post revisionist approach being taught in schools. Both Maori and European history is taught in varying degrees, and versions, depending on the bias of the University, and/or the department, or teacher/lecturer. It's an improvement, from my grandparents time.  I think the post revisionist approach offers a more nuanced approach to history.

"..The Native American view of history would be a revisionist view. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States is the quintessential revisionist history. Patricia Limerick is a well-known Native American historian who can be considered revisionist."

Out of curiousity do your lecturer's or teachers recommend you read these books? alongside teaching about 'Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Kennedy etc.. Do they teach both sides of history?



jesseravenclaw | Student

Thanks all for your feedback. 

Do you think overall American schools and Universities place more emphasis on Columbus or the American Indians as the first settlers?

Which approach dominates in mainstream educational institutes?  the  'traditional' approach, 'the revisionist' approach'? or 'post revisionist' approach? For example in New Zealand educational teachers used to teach the traditional approach -ie that Able Tasman was the"first" discoverer of New Zealand. Maori people and culture were designated as a sort of second class race, therefore they were never given the same value or credit. Able Tasman was promoted in all mainstream literature as the superior adventurer.

In reality it was in fact part propaganda myth. While Tasman was the first known Dutch person to find New Zealand, he was not the first person. Archeology tells us that the first settlers were in fact the Maori people. A clue- when Tasman first arrived he was greeted by "people" - Maori people -who arrived hundreds of years prior to him. Strange how for decades teachers never thought too much about that fact.


etotheeyepi | Student

Speaking as one who recently graduated from an American high school, I can say that Columbus is a prominent figure in what we learn about the European colonization of North and South America, but I don't think we learn that he led the first first group of people to come to the American continents.

The standard history says something like because the Native Americans had two blood types, that suggests that at least two groups of people discovered America before Columbus.  The discovery of Kennawick Man suggest that three groups from Asia discovered the American continents.  Also, Vikings had a colony in Canada.  That makes four groups.

If anyone knew the names of the leaders of these three Asian groups, then they would get credit. All of these groups and Columbus, did not know where they were going.  They did not know where they were when they got here, and in the cases of the Vikings and Columbus, they did not know where they had been when they went back.

In my opinion, Amerigo Vespucci discovered America.  He came with Columbus, and he came back to make measurements that proved that they had found new continents.