Sunday, January 10, 2010

The fourth part of the world - NBIH

The last episode of New Books In History treated the circumstances of the discovery of the Americas. From Columbus's idea to sail to the Indies by going westward to the first map that fully recognized the Americas as a separate continent. A fourth part of the world, named after Amerigo Vespucci.

To this end host Marshall Poe interviewed Toby Lester and he gave a thrilling account of how the Americas got shape in the concept of the world. In this respect one needs to immediately set aside the myth that people thought the world was flat. It was known the world was round and there was even relatively sound data about the extent of the Asian continent in addition to a fairly accurate idea of the circumference of the earth. On the basis of those data Columbus's journey was folly, considering the vast amount of ocean that needed to be crossed. An intermediate continent was not expected and Columbus just thought he'd found some islands along the way when he got onto Hispaniola. Like the Canary Islands and the Azores.

We all know Vespucci eventually sailed around and this is how the new continent got its name. And since the world had always been conceptually assumed to consist of three parts (Europe, Africa and Asia), this was the fourth. This we know quite well, but the really interesting part of the show is the description of how the idea of what was lying in the west got shape. Starting from the discovery of the Canary Islands, through Columbus's journey, the development of ideas and additional data from the likes of Vespucci. In this respect you should listen and pay special attention to the finer details around the Canary Islands - it has nothing to do with canaries, more with dogs. And: the islands were inhabited - I never knew that.

More NBIH:
How the Soviet system imploded,
Vietnam War perspectives,
1989 - Padraic Kenney,
The Ossie twilight,
The first day of LBJ.