Letter from Christopher Columbus to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain (1493)
The following is an excerpt from a letter between Christopher Columbus and the rulers of Spain.
Epistola Christofori Colom... de insulis Indie supra Gangem
When Christopher Columbus landed on mainland Spain in 1493 after his first voyage to the Americas, he sent this letter to the King and Queen of Spain. This letter accounts for the people, land, and resources Columbus discovered on Guanahani.
Title: "Epistola Christofori Colom... de insulis Indie supra Gangem"
Date Created: April 1493
Author: Christopher Columbus
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, The Americas to 1620s Collection
Question 1: What are the circumstances surrounding this letter's creation that may influence its content? Do they effect its reliability as a source?
Your answer
Question 2: What specific content, if any, is there within the letter might lead you to question its reliability as a source?
Your answer
Instructional Goal
This lesson is designed to get students thinking historically, engaging their abilities to examine both the context of and evidence within a primary source document. Students must think about the circumstances surrounding the letter, and Columbus himself, and consider its reliability in light of their knowledge of the context. Students must then assess the evidence within the letter, gained through a close reading, and decide whether the claims made are reliable in consideration of the context.

Question 1: I would expect most students, with the appropriate prior instruction to provide them context, would say that the letter is limited in its reliability because Columbus is trying to impress the Spanish royals. They funded his voyage and now that he has returned, they will want to know they made a good investment.

Question 2: I would expect students to bring up the fact that Columbus writes about hoping the people of Guanahani become good Christians and admirers of the Spanish sovereigns. This makes the letter seem more about impressing them then it does about an accurate accounting of the people.

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