November 01, 2014 01:50 UTC

USA

Making of a Nation: Columbus and the New World

Christopher Columbus explored what is now Cuba and believed it was part of the east coast of Asia

Christopher Columbus explored what is now Cuba and believed it was part of the east coast of Asia
Christopher Columbus explored what is now Cuba and believed it was part of the east coast of Asia

Multimedia

Play or download an MP3 of this story
  • Making of a Nation Columbus DIscovers the New World H

  • Making of a Nation-Columbus Discovers the New World - High Quality

Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English. I’m Steve Ember.
 
Generations of schoolchildren have been taught that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. In fact, the second Monday in October is celebrated as a national holiday, Columbus Day, to honor the European explorer.
 
But October's page on the calendar also has a lesser known observance. October ninth is Leif Erickson Day. Leif Erickson was a Norse explorer who sailed around the northeastern coast of what we now call North America about one thousand years ago. He and his crew returned to Greenland with news of a place he called "Vinland."
 
Following his explorations, a few settlements were built. Experts digging in eastern Canada in the nineteen sixties found the remains of a village with houses like those in Greenland, Iceland and Norway. But the Norse did not establish any permanent settlements in North America.
 
Today, as we relaunch our series, we begin with the story of early European explorers in North America.
 
In the eleventh century, Europe was beginning a period of great change. One reason was the religious wars known as the Crusades. These were military campaigns by Christians to force Muslims out of the Holy Land in the Middle East. The Crusades began at the end of the eleventh century. They continued for about two hundred years.
 
One effect of the presence of European armies in the Middle East was to increase trade. This trade was controlled by businessmen in Venice and other city-states in Italy. The businessmen earned large profits by supplying the warring armies and by bringing goods from the East into Europe.

When the European crusaders returned home, they brought with them some new and useful products. These included spices, perfumes, silk cloth and steel products. These goods became highly valued all over Europe. The increased trade with the East led to the creation and growth of towns along the supply roads. It also created a large number of rich European businessmen.
 
The European nations were growing. They developed armies and governments. These had to be paid for with taxes collected from the people. By the fifteenth century, European countries were ready to explore new parts of the world.
 
The first explorers were the Portuguese. By fourteen hundred, they wanted to control the Eastern spice trade. European businessmen did not want to continue paying Venetian and Arab traders for their costly spices. They wanted to set up trade themselves. If they could sail to Asia directly for these products, the resulting trade would bring huge profits.
 
The leader of Portugal's exploration efforts was Prince Henry, a son of King John the first. He was interested in sea travel and exploration. He became known as Henry the Navigator.
 
Prince Henry brought experts to his country and studied the sciences involved in exploration. He built an observatory to study the stars. Portuguese sea captains sailed their ships down the west coast of Africa hoping to find a path to India and East Asia. They finally found the end of the African continent, the area called the Cape of Good Hope.
 
It took the Portuguese only about fifty years to take control of the spice trade. They established trading colonies in Africa, the Persian Gulf, India and China.
 
Improvements in technology helped them succeed. One improvement was a new kind of ship. It could sail more easily through storms and winds.
 
Other inventions like the compass allowed them to sail out of sight of land. The Portuguese also armed their ships with modern cannon. They used these weapons to battle Muslim and East Asian traders.
 
The other European nations would not let Portugal control this spice trade for long, however. Spain's Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand agreed to provide ships, crew and supplies for an exploration by an Italian named Christopher Columbus.
 
Columbus thought the shortest way to reach the East was to sail west across the Atlantic Ocean. He was right. But he also was wrong. He believed the world was much smaller than it is. He did not imagine the existence of another continent -- and another huge ocean -- between Europe and East Asia.

Columbus and a crew of eighty-eight men left Spain on August third, fourteen ninety-two, in three ships: the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. By October twelfth, the sailors stood on land again on an island that Columbus named San Salvador.
 
He explored that island and the nearby islands of what are now known as Cuba and Hispaniola. He believed they were part of the coast of East Asia, which was then called the Indies. He called the people he found there Indians.
 
Columbus left about forty men on San Salvador island to build a fort from the wood of one of the ships. He returned to Spain with birds, plants, gold -- and people captured from the land he explored. Columbus was welcomed as a hero when he returned to Spain in March of fourteen ninety-three.
 
Columbus sailed again across the Atlantic to the Caribbean five months later. He found that the fort built by his men had been destroyed by fire. Columbus did not find any of his men. But this time, he had many more men and all the animals and equipment needed to start a colony on Hispaniola.
 
Seven months later, he sent five ships back to Spain. They carried Indians to be sold as slaves. Columbus himself also returned to Spain.
 
Christopher Columbus made another trip in fourteen ninety-eight. This time he saw the coast of South America.
 
But the settlers on Hispaniola were so unhappy with conditions in their new colony, they sent Columbus back to Spain as a prisoner. Spain's rulers pardoned him.
 
In fifteen two, Columbus made his final voyage to what some by then were calling the New World. He stayed on the island of Jamaica until he returned home two years later.
 
During all his trips, Columbus explored islands and waterways, searching for that passage to the Indies. He never found it. Nor did he find spices or great amounts of gold. Yet, he always believed that he had found the Indies. He refused to recognize that it really was a new world.
 
Evidence of this was all around him -- strange plants unknown in either Europe or Asia. And a different people who did not understand any language spoken in the East.
 
Columbus' voyages, however, opened up the new world. Others later explored all of North America.
 
You may be wondering about the name of this new land. If Christopher Columbus led the explorations, then why is it called "America"? The answer lies with the name of another Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci.
 
He visited the coast of South America in fourteen ninety-nine. He wrote stories about his experiences that were widely read in Europe.
 
In fifteen seven, a German mapmaker, Martin Waldseemueller, read Vespucci's stories. He decided that the writer had discovered the new world, and thought it should be called America in his honor. And so it was.
 
Spanish explorers sought to find gold and power in the New World. They also wanted to spread Christianity, which they considered the only true religion.  
 
The first of these Spanish explorers was Juan Ponce de Leon. He landed in North America in fifteen thirteen. He explored the eastern coast of what is now the state of Florida. He was searching for a special kind of water that Europeans believed existed. They believed that this water could make old people young again. Ponce de Leon never did find the fountain of youth.
 
Also in fifteen thirteen, Vasco Nuñez de Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Panama and reached the Pacific Ocean. In fifteen nineteen, Hernan Cortes landed an army in Mexico. His army destroyed the ancient empire of the Aztec Indians.
 
That same year Ferdinand Magellan began his three-year voyage around the world. And in the fifteen thirties, the forces of Francisco Pizarro destroyed the Inca Indian empire in Peru.
 
Ten years later, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado had marched as far north as what is now the American state of Kansas and then west to the Grand Canyon. About the same time, Hernando de Soto reached the Mississippi River.
 
Fifty years after Columbus first landed at San Salvador, Spain claimed a huge area of America.
 
The riches of these new lands made Spain the greatest power in Europe, and the world. But other nations refused to accept Spanish claims to the New World. Explorers from England, France and Holland were also sailing to North America. That will be our story next week.
This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
 Previous    
by: Steffen
09/14/2012 1:39 PM
The waiting is finally over.One of your best series has started
again.Thanks a lot dear VOA-Team.


by: Mai from: Vietnam
09/14/2012 4:41 AM
so finally the name America is from the name of an Italian.


by: sinan from: Turkey
09/13/2012 9:05 PM
it was like a history lesson. thank you indeed. i named this story as "the facts we dont know"


by: MAURO SANCHEZ from: CUENCA, ECUADOR
09/13/2012 8:45 PM
I am so happy for the new relaunch of The Making of a Nation. I was looking forward for it because throught it one can learn a lot of American and World history. This program is one of my faforites. I`d like to make a small suggestion: if possible to include more maps, drawings and pictures to enrich the contents.Thanks a lot and go ahead VOA.


by: fernando from: oviedo
09/13/2012 8:34 PM
wow,I always had sympathy for the Americans, I think for that connection to the Americas, they have a rather peculiar story


by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
09/13/2012 6:41 AM
History looks different depending on the viewpoints seen from diferent observers.From the Indians' viewpoints, October 12 is the day when they discovered the white. Developed civilization and Empires of Inca and Mayan had been established by natives when European explorers sailed across the Atlantic ocean. It is well known that millions of such natives were massacred by European conquerors. I hope VOA will describe stories from the viewpoint of native Indians next time.

In Response

by: kika from: spain
09/24/2012 9:06 PM
sorry, we used to be really uncivilized and ambitious

In Response

by: MAURO SANCHEZ from: CUENCA, ECUADOR
09/14/2012 7:32 PM
Hi, Yoshi. I totaly agree with you.

Comments page of 2
 Previous    

Learn with The News

  • FILE - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, right, walks past Chinese President Xi Jinping as they arrive to the Monument to the People's Heroes during a ceremony marking Martyr’s Day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, Sept. 30, 2014.

    Audio China’s Constitution Receives New Attention

    The constitution took effect in the early 1980s, when the Communist Party was opening up the country economically. Now China is at a new crossroads. Observers say it is reaching for a new economic growth model. Chinese officials will promise to defend its rules when they take office. | In The News More

  • Video More US Hispanic Women Convert to Islam

    Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. The Pew Research Center says about six percent of American Muslims are Latino. And women make up a little more than half of the new converts -- the people who have changed their religion to Islam. More

  • This image released by USCIS shows a sample of the front of the redesigned green card carried by foreign-born residents living permanently in the U.S. The Homeland Security Department is issuing the redesigned "green card" that is stacked with safety feat

    Audio US 'Green Card Lottery' Ending November 3

    State Department’s Diversity Visa program closes November 3rd. Millions of people have entered the program, hoping to win a visa. But only 50,000 are chosen. 5,000 more are available under the Nicaraguan and Central America Relief Act. The green card lottery closes on Monday. | As It Is More

  • A convoy of peshmerga vehicles is escorted by Turkish Kurds on their way to the Turkish-Syrian border, in Kiziltepe near the southeastern city of Mardin October 29, 2014

    Audio Iraqi Kurdish Fighters Enter Kobani

    Also in the news, Burkina Faso ends efforts to extend its presidential term limit after protests in the capital. Ukraine says the EU will be guarantor in any gas deal with Russia. Myanmar holds a major meeting Friday. And claims of cheating delay SAT results for South Korean and Chinese students. More

  • Video Singapore Film Ban Raises Free Speech Issue

    The documentary film, “To Singapore, with Love” tells about political dissidents from Singapore. The film has been shown at public events in Britain, India and Malaysia, among other countries. But one place the movie cannot be seen is Singapore. That is because the government there has banned it. More

Featured Stories

  • Obama Halloween

    Audio Halloween Is Big with Kids and Business

    The National Retail Federation says sales of Halloween goods will total about $7.4 billion this year. It says the average American will spend about $77. The group expects 162 million people to celebrate. The NRF predicts 54 million of them will hold Halloween parties. | American Mosaic More

  • A print shows the Second Battle of Bull Run, also called Second Manassas.

    Audio South Defeats North Again at Manassas

    Lincoln named George Pope to lead the Army of Virginia. He wanted to join Pope’s forces with the Army of the Potomac and break through Confederate defenses around Richmond. But General Robert E. Lee decided to hit Pope first. More

  • Star House

    Video Home of Last Comanche Chief Close to Ruins

    One of the most interesting people in U.S. history is Quanah Parker, the last chief of the country’s Comanche Indian tribe. Quanah Parker was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Quanah Parker was a fierce fighter. More

  • FILE - A veterinarian at the nonprofit Bali Animal Welfare Association gives a rabies shot to a puppy in Kebon Kaja village, Bangli Regency in Bali, Indonesia.

    Audio Mass Vaccination of Dogs Can Eliminate Rabies

    About 70,000 people worldwide die every year of rabies. Rabies is a viral infection that people get mainly through dog bites. Scientists say vaccinating dogs can effectively get rid of rabies outbreaks in dog populations. And this will have a domino effect, fewer humans with rabies. More

  • Methane oxidizing

    Photogallery Small Organisms in Deep Sea Rocks Eat Methane

    The gas methane has been linked to rising temperatures on Earth. But methane does not stay in the atmosphere as long as another “greenhouse gas” -- carbon dioxide. Scientists say both gases trap heat from the sun. They prevent heat from escaping into outer space. More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs