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The Journal of Christopher Columbus Discussion Questions

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The following questions can help you to guide your students through a structured group discussion about the journal of Christopher Columbus' first expedition to the Americas.

The Journal of Christopher Columbus

During his first voyage in 1492, Christopher Columbus kept a journal of his progress and search for a maritime route to East Asia. This journal became an invaluable historical record of the first sustained period of contact between Europe and the Americas, and is crucial to our understanding of how the Age of Imperialism began.

These questions are intended to help high school students work through Columbus' journal and the historical context surrounding them. However, this discussion can be adapted to other grade levels if desired.

Questions about Columbus' Voyage

  • How does the printed edition of Columbus' journal begin? What do we learn in the prologue? How does Columbus situate his journey within the attitudes and events of Europe at that time? How does this shape our perception of how Columbus will approach the events of his journey? How does this shape our perception of Columbus himself and his personality?
  • How does Columbus describe the reason for his expedition, and its beginning? Why does Columbus think this expedition is necessary? What factors motivated him? In what ways are his motivations similar and different from those of the monarchs of Spain?
  • What is the voyage across the Atlantic like for Columbus and his sailors? What are the positive aspects of this journey? What are the challenges? How does Columbus discuss the attitudes of the crew? How much attention do you think he paid to this? Why?
  • What do Columbus and the crew see on their voyage? How does Columbus describe the weather, animals, and other natural phenomenon? What do these descriptions show us abut Columbus' personality and interests, as well as those of Europeans at large?

Questions about Columbus' Landfall

  • How does Columbus describe the first sightings of land? How do you think you would have felt at this time, if you were a sailor on this crew?
  • How does Columbus describe the land itself? How does he describe the people who live there? Are there similarities in the way he approaches each topic? What seems to matter to Columbus? What does he write about?
  • Where does Columbus think he is? Why? What evidence does he see (or choose to see) that he thinks supports this?
  • How does Columbus begin to interact with the peoples of these islands? What can we learn about European attitudes from this? Do you think Columbus is trying to draw on any historical precedents in how he attempts to set up trade relationships with the people and Spanish ownership of this land?
  • Since Columbus himself was not Spanish, why do you think he spends so much time comparing the Americas to Spain? What does this show us about Columbus' relationship with the Spanish monarchs and their goals for this expedition?

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