Christopher Columbus: Discoveries & Accomplishments

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  • 0:03 Sailing the Ocean
  • 0:46 In Search of Treasure
  • 1:46 The Discovery
  • 2:32 Columbus' Last Voyages
  • 3:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

Christopher Columbus is considered one of the most important men in history for sailing across the Atlantic to connect the western and eastern hemispheres. Learn about his discoveries and his achievements in this lesson.

Sailing the Ocean

Imagine that someone tells you there's treasure on the other side of your city. It's right there for the taking, but there's only one problem: you can only use a single map to find it - no GPS, no Google maps, nothing.

Now imagine that instead of going across just your city, you have to go across the entire world to find riches, using nothing but the image on a piece of paper. It sounds difficult or even impossible, but the earliest explorers traveled the oceans of the world with just a map and some basic tools for navigation, meaning finding their way. The most famous explorer by far was Christopher Columbus, who was the Italian explorer who sailed from Europe to North America and brought both peoples together - for better or worse.

In Search of Treasure

Columbus didn't want to sail to North America. In fact, before he left, he didn't even know North America existed. About 500 years ago, Europeans thought that the only other continents were Asia and Africa, since nobody had been to the Americas (or to Australia or Antarctica). Columbus wanted to land in India, not North America, because it was a source of riches like spices, silk, and gems.

Previously, Europeans had to sail all the way around Africa to get to India, and Columbus thought there was a better way. However, just because you have a good idea doesn't mean that everyone will believe you.

Columbus had the idea of sailing across the Atlantic to reach India, but he couldn't convince the richest Europeans to give him the money to prove it. He asked kings and queens and leaders of nations like Portugal, Venice, and Genoa. Finally, he went to the Spanish queen, Isabella, and persuaded her to give him three ships for a voyage, or great journey. These ships were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

The Discovery

While taking a ship from one place to another isn't a big deal today, it was a lot more dangerous 500 years ago. It took weeks to cross an ocean, and Columbus' men became afraid that they had become lost, and there was the risk of sickness because they didn't have fresh food. Just when they were about to convince Columbus to give up, they saw a seabird, which they knew meant land was near.

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