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Columbus Quincentenary


COLUMBUS QUINCENTENARY (1992). Marking the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the land that would become known as the Americas, the Columbus Quincentenary was a problematic commemoration. Major events took place, including a summer Olympics dedicated to Columbus in Barcelona, Spain; the Universal Exposition (Expo '92) in Seville, Spain; and the AmeriFlora exposition in Columbus, Ohio, the largest flower show in the western hemisphere. Nevertheless, attendance at some of these events was disappointing, media attention was sparse, and financial goals were not met. In the United States, the Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Jubilee Commission, established in 1984, was intended to "plan, encourage, coordinate, and conduct the commemoration of the voyages of Christopher Columbus," but the Commission was ineffective due to financial mismanagement and poor leadership. Planned events, including a reprise of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, were either curtailed or canceled. One frequently cited reason for lackluster or failed events was the worldwide recession and the United States' federal budget deficit. Another major factor was scholars' and indigenous peoples' resistance to celebrating an event they believed had brought conquest, colonization, disease, and environmental exploitation to the Americas. One positive outcome of the commemoration's failure, however, was that uncritical treatments of Columbus and his achievements were replaced by the efforts of teachers, academics, museum professionals, and cultural organizations to explore, debate, and teach the significance of the event within the larger context of the meaning, documentation, and interpretation of the past. The Library of Congress published Keys to the Encounter, a resource guide for researching the "age of discovery." The Smithsonian Institution's "Seeds of Change" exhibit explored the dietary, environmental, and cultural impact of Columbus's encounter with the Americas, and public libraries in fifty states and three territories exhibited a traveling version of this exhibit. A seven-part PBS series, "In Search of Columbus," gave a scholarly and relatively balanced view of the encounter.


Vorsey, Louis de. Keys to the Encounter: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of the Age of Discovery. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1992.

Herman, Viola J., and Carolyn Margolis. Seeds of Change: A Quincentennial Commemoration. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991.

Royal, Robert. 1492 And All That: Political Manipulations of History. Washington, D.C.: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1992.

Sale, Kirkpatrick. The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbia Legacy. New York: Knopf, 1990.

Summerhill, Stephen J., and John Alexander Williams. Sinking Columbus: Contested History, Cultural Politics, and Mythmaking during the Quincentenary. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000.



See alsoExploration of America, Early ; Explorations and Expeditions: Spanish .

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