Examining Ten Commonly Accepted Verbal Maps of American History
Levinson, Martin H., ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
There is an analogy in general semantics that words and statements are like maps that describe territories. The purpose of the analogy is to remind us that words, like maps, only represent reality and are not reality itself (the map is not the territory). To find out how well words represent reality, general semantics suggests it is a good idea to check the map against the territory--carefully examine what is being labeled or described to see if the words that describe it are accurate. Let's do that with respect to ten commonly accepted verbal maps of American history.
1. The Map: Christopher Columbus Discovered America
A review of the territory: A national American holiday and two centuries of school-history lessons have led many to believe as true that Christopher Columbus was the first to reach America. But most scholars think Columbus actually landed in Cuba, Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), and on an island in the Bahamas during his 1492 voyage from Spain to the New World. Archaeological evidence suggests that Norse sailors led by Leif Ericksson reached North America five hundred years before Columbus, establishing a colony in Newfoundland around 1000 AD.
It is interesting to note that Columbus's bravery, persistence, and seamanship have earned him a prominent place in American history. But many school-books gloss over the fact that in his obsessive quest for gold he enslaved the local population. With other Spanish adventurers, as well as later European colonizers, Columbus opened an era of genocide that decimated the Native American population through warfare, forced labor, and European diseases to which the Indians, a name Columbus bestowed on Native Americans, had no natural immunities.
Considering Columbus's prominence in our nation's history, one might ask, why don't we live in the United States of Columbus? The answer is that Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian who captained four voyages to the "New World" beginning in 1499, recognized that the New World, a term that he coined, was a landmass separate from Asia. To honor his revelation, Vespucci's given name was placed on the first map of the region. While Columbus may have found the new world first, Vespucci understood that it was a new world. Columbus went to his grave thinking he had reached Asia.
2. The Map: The Pilgrims Landed on Plymouth Rock
A review of the territory: On December 16, 1620, the Pilgrims on the Mayflower reached their new home in America. Nearly all scholars put the Pilgrims' landing about 10 miles north of the lumpy scrap …
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Publication information: Article title: Examining Ten Commonly Accepted Verbal Maps of American History. Contributors: Levinson, Martin H. - Author. Journal title: ETC.: A Review of General Semantics. Volume: 66. Issue: 4 Publication date: October 2009. Page number: 364+. © 1999 International Society for General Semantics. COPYRIGHT 2009 Gale Group.
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