Magazine article Social Studies Review

Discovering Amerigo!

Magazine article Social Studies Review

Discovering Amerigo!

Article excerpt

Both San Marino and the Cook Islands have minted commemorative 2012 coins honoring Amerigo Vespucci. What could be the reasoning for this coincidental timing of both nations' mints? On both coins it states "500th anniversary." Of what is it the anniversary? The puzzle is more interesting in that the Cook Islands also minted a 500th anniversary coin in 1992. Why would the 500th anniversary be celebrated on both dates, 1992 and 2012? On July 11, 2007, a resolution passed unanimously in the U.S. Congress to commemorate the first use of the name "America" five hundred years ago. The bill was introduced by U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings. Her introduction of the bill was inspired by Riccardo Gaudino, historian for the America500 Birthday Extravaganza Movement (2007-12), who had organized the national campaign of "Who Named America? National Youth Literacy for the 21st Century." What 500 year series of events (2007-2012) does this "birthday extravaganza" recognize? It all seems to revolve around Amerigo Vespucci. Why is he getting so much attention?

We have all heard that "in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" as a way to remember the year "Columbus discovered America." In 1492 Columbus

didn't actually land on North or South America, and he certainly did not call the land upon which he set foot "America." Amerigo Vespucci did not accompany Columbus on this voyage. There are reports that Vespucci helped outfit Columbus' second voyage on behalf of the Medici's and that he was a friend of Columbus, but apparently he did not sail with Columbus. So, why would the Cook Islands have an Amerigo Vespucci 500th commemorative coin 1492-1992?

The America500 Birthday Extravaganza Movement celebrates a period of time beginning in 2007 and running through 2012. Vespucci made four voyages between 1497 and 1504. Those dates don't align perfectly with a 500th anniversary of Vespucci's voyages. So, the anniversary is not celebrating Vespucci's voyages, or is it?

The answer to the puzzle is in the naming of America. Do you know who named America? You probably didn't learn this fact in school, nor will you find the answer in most history books. As a child I thought Vespucci made a map of his voyages and named the lands he explored after himself. Is that what my teacher told me? Is that what it said in my history book? That was wrong. One recent history book mentioned that America was named by a German mapmaker. No, Vespucci wasn't German, but the book was right.

There was a German mapmaker who wanted to make a map of the New World, one that would supersede the ancient map made by the Greek geographer/mathematician, Ptolemy, which showed Europe, Asia and Africa but no continents in the Western Hemisphere. In his search for the latest information about the new lands being explored by Europeans, this cartographer turned to copies of journals that were in circulation at that time. Several of these journals were by a navigator and explorer named Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci had reported in his writings his new calculation of the circumference of the Earth (which turns out to have been accurate within a distance of 50 miles) and his conclusion that South America was a separate continent from Asia. This was new information mapmaker, Martin Waaldseemuller, wanted to share with the world on his new map. The new invention, the printing press would make it possible to rapidly disperse this new map. When Waldseemuller released his map of the New World it had a new continent South America labeled America. (North America was labeled Indies.) This map in which America first appears was published in 1507. Add five hundred years to that date, and you have the first year of America500 celebration! The celebration begins with the recognition of the name America appearing for the first time on any map. It wasn't until 1538 that the term America was given to all the land in the Western Hemisphere by Girard Mercator on his map of the world. It is unclear when the term North America appeared on any later map. …

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