Historicizing Christopher Columbus for Elementary and Secondary Students

Document Type


Publication Date

June 2012


American elementary students annually familiarize themselves with the above rhyme every October as Columbus Day memorializes Christopher Columbus's "discovery" of the western hemisphere. Teachers generally construct a narrative of Columbus by celebrating his navigational skill and reviewing relevant dates about his first voyage with worksheets derived from a textbook or a historical fiction book. In secondary world history classes, teachers many teachers may provide little more as they race through the content to complete the textbook. Research suggests that some educators teach social studies topics like Columbus well by integrating age-appropriate, comprehensive content with engaging methods. However, other researchers discredit the content within history textbooks they use, find misrepresentations and omissions within widely used historical fiction, and question the ability of teachers to engage students in historical thinking. Whereas many teachers at the elementary and secondary levels clearly chart a forward-thinking path to elicit students' interest and complicate their thinking, some researchers have found too much reliance on catchy poems about dates, generic worksheets based on facts, simplistic historical fiction tales, and one-dimensional textbook summations about Columbus which serve to promote the "heroification" of this navigator, a simplistic approach long abandoned by world historians at all levels of instruction.


This research was originally published in World History Connected, volume 9, issue 2, and is available at http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/9.2/bickford.html