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The 15th century was characterized a wide range of European exploration. It was the Age of Discovery. This age was like the bridge between the Medieval Age and the Modern Age; characterized by various forms of renaissance and reinvention after the ‘black’ deaths of the previous era. Some of the areas that the British were exploring were Africa, Americas, Oceania and Asia. Some of the main reason for expansive exploration was the need to look for new sea routes for transportation of gold among other things. They were also looking for new lands as well as possible markets for their goods and lands for agriculture. Spain and Portugal were the leading explorers.

One of the most renowned explorers of the 15th century was Christopher Columbus. He was an Italian explorer who had a lot of interest in exploring the West Indies. Towards the end of the 15th century, he was sent by the King and Queen of Spain to go and explore the Indies. As a result, in April 1493, he wrote a letter to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella describing his encounters and discoveries.

The Letter by Columbus to the King

The letter by Columbus to the King presents several themes. These themes say a lot about the nature of the society at the time. First of all, there were efforts by Europe to re-engineer itself especially after the misfortunes that bedeviled it during the classical times and the Middle Ages. Therefore, exploration of the world was an avenue through which Europe would understand the world and conquer it. The society was generally imperialistic. This is because in spite of the fact that the new lands were occupied by people, Europeans claimed to have ‘discovered’ the lands as if those who lived there were not aware of their habitats. For instance, Columbus writes “…I sailed towards the east, coasting to the distance of three hundred and twenty- two miles, which brought us to the extremity of it; from this point I saw lying eastwards another island, fifty-four miles distant from Juana, to which I gave the name of Espanola...” (Columbus, 1493). The Island definitely had a name but he the Italian wanted to make it look as if it did not have a name.

The European society at this time was also very racist. They did not treat or describe non-Whites as human beings. They described the societies they encountered as backward, some as savages, especially those found in West African coast. Moreover, in this case, Columbus (1493) describes the Indians thus: “The inhabitants of both sexes in this island, and in all the others which I have seen, or of which I have received information, go always naked as they were born, with the exception of some of the women…” To illustrate that the society was imperialistic, it is evident that slave trade began immediately after these explorations. Furthermore, colonialism arose out of these exploration efforts.

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Historians use several concepts to understand primary sources of information, such as Christopher Columbus’ letter.  Some of them include epistemology, reliability versus credibility and neutrality versus objectivity (Barton, 2005). Moreover, this analysis makes use of the concepts of reliability and credibility. In analyzing the letter as a primary source, the past becomes more immediate. Moreover, the analysis considered the source of the document. Since the original letter by Columbus was lost, there is a need to read this letter with a keen eye.

The letter, having been translated from Spanish, records that Columbus took 33 days from Canary Islands to the Indies. This information is not necessarily credible. This is because the writer may have wanted to appease the Monarchs who funded his trip. However, by cross checking this information with the ship’s diary, it is found to be correct. Therefore, the information is credible; and if it is credible, it is reliable because there was no other explorer who made achievements in the Indies as Columbus. On the other hand, not all information is reliable. It becomes difficult to believe that Columbus visited the right Islands. In addition, the reliability as well as validity is questionable since he neither revealed that he lost one ship nor did he explain why they built a port at Navidad.

In conclusion, Columbus letter to the King and the Queen was a unique primary source of historical information. This was because it records events and happenings from a first hand experience. However, in analyzing the contents of the letter in the view of other sources, it becomes apparent that Columbus’ letter was based on his motivations. His description of the Indians was affected by his attitude while his descriptions may have suffered from his personal views as opposed to the views of the locals. Through the concept of reliability and credibility, moreover, it could be said that the letter was a fairly good attempt to describe the voyage as well as the encounters thereof.

Code: Sample20

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