Columbus, Confrontation, Christianity: The European-American Encounter Revisited

Article excerpt

Columbus Confrontation, Christianity: The European-American Encounter Revisited. Edited with introductions by Timothy J. O'Keefe. (Madison, Wisconsin: Forbes Mill Press. 1994. Pp. vii, 248. Paperback.)

This volume gathers together papers presented at the Santa Clara University Columbus Quincentennial Institute held in the autumn of 1992. As Timothy J. O'Keefe explains in his balanced and perspicacious editor's introduction, the intention was both to provide "a wide variety of approaches and interpretations" and to understand "Columbus, the Spanish conquerors, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas, and all historical personalities and events, within the context of their own times." Given the contentious atmosphere during the Columbus Quincentenary, these were worthy scholarly goals and, though a bit uneven in quality, these essays largely live up to the editor's ideals.

Everyone now recognizes that, as John Paul II told a Mayan audience in the Yucatan at the time of the anniversary: "The shadow of sin was cast over America, too, in the destruction of many of your artistic and cultural creations, and in the violence to which you we often subject." The other large question, however, is what to make of the immensely complex and uneven mixing of the indigenous and European cultures that continues to this day. Given the lack of consensus and confidence in the developed world about its own moral and cultural status, the Encounter often became a kind of Rorschach blot onto which various contemporary concerns were projected, greatly distorting both the European and indigenous record.

The two opening sections, "Europe and the Encounter" and "The Americas and the Encounter," try to establish some solid historical fact over against mere polemical assertions. In one essay, Thomas Turley usefully re-examines the use of large characterizations such as "medieval" and "Renaissance" to arrive at a more detailed picture of the world Columbus and the early explores came from, and how, as individuals, they reflected it or differed from it. The section on Native America makes a case in feminist, ecological, and mere human terms for the value of our indigenous peoples but, unfortunately, contains no serious critique of native shortcomings. …