Columbus Day: How to distort the past without actually lying

Here’s a re-run from last year, which I think is apropos considering the current squabble over AP history standards. Many Americans still believe that the purpose of history is to teach patriotism. The best teachers, however, try to instill critical thinking skills and a willingness to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if it ruins your preferred narrative.

But narratives can be tenacious, and it’s possible to cling to one in spite of overwhelming evidence. It’s possible to do so even while acknowledging that evidence. The story of Christopher Columbus shows how:

The Curious People

Replicas of Columbus’s ships at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Via Wikipedia

Columbus Day is a US holiday which is celebrated with annual arguments about the propriety of honoring Christopher Columbus with a holiday. The atrocities that he and his men committed are so well documented that you’d think it would be impossible to defend the man, but people are still doing it. Today’s post isn’t about Columbus so much as it’s about how to defend Columbus (not that I’m defending him). There’s an important lesson here about history and about the way we talk about history.

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