Doc Chat Episode Forty: Columbus’s 1493 Letter on His First Voyage, Teaching a Troubled Treasure

By Julie Golia, Associate Director, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books and Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscri
January 10, 2022
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

On December 9, 2021, Doc Chat read between the lines of the first printed account of Columbus's initial voyage to the Americas.

1493 Christopher Columbus Letter

Letter of Columbus to Luis de Santangel, dated 15 February 1493; NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1820056.

A weekly series from NYPL's Center for Research in the Humanities, Doc Chat pairs an NYPL curator or specialist and a scholar to discuss evocative digitized items from the Library's collections and brainstorm innovative ways of teaching with them. In Episode Forty, Paloma Celis Carbajal, Curator for Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Studies Collections, and Michael Inman, Curator of Rare Books, discussed the origins, content, distribution, and legacy of a 1493 letter from Christopher Columbus, featured in the Library’s newly opened The Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library’s Treasures, and offered innovative ideas on how to incorporate the document into teaching about the origins of colonialism in the Americas.

Doc Chat Episode 40: Columbus’s 1493 Letter on his First Voyage, Teaching a Troubled Treasure from The New York Public Library on Vimeo.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

Below are some handy links to materials and sources suggested in the episode.

Episode Forty: Primary Sources

Paloma and Michael focused their analysis on one document, held in the Rare Book Division of the New York Public Library. The letter is digitized and available in full on NYPL's Digital Collections.

Letter of Columbus to Luis de Santangel, dated 15 February 1493; NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1820056.

They used the following transcriptions and translations to prepare this episode:

The Letter of Columbus on the discovery of America: a facsimile of the pictorial edition, with a new and literal translation, and a complete reprint of the oldest four editions in Latin. Printed by order of the trustees of the Lenox Library. New York: The De Vinne Press, 1892.

Spanish letter of Columbus to Luis de Sant' Angel, escribando de racion of the kingdom of Aragon, dated 15 February 1493, reprinted in reduced facsimile, and tr. from the unique copy of the original edition. Printed by Johann Rosenbach at Barcelona early in April 1493, lately in the possession of Bernard Quaritch. London: G. Norman and Son, printers, 1893. 

Episode Forty: Readings and Resources

Bartolomé de las Casas, Brevísima relación de la destrucción de las Indias, Sevilla, 1552 (first edition).

Bartolomé de las Casas, A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies, edited and translated by Nigel Griffin (Penguin Books, 1992). 

Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus), Los cuatro viajes; Testamento, edición de Consuelo Varela. (Alianza, 1986).

Crónicas de Indias: antología, edición de Mercedes Serna (Madrid: Cátedra, 2000).

The Diario of Christopher Columbus's first voyage to America, 1492-1493, abstracted by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas; transcribed and translated into English (University of Oklahoma Press, 1992).

Carlos Fuentes, The Buried Mirror: Reflections on Spain and the New World (Houghton Mifflin, 1992). 

Carlos Fuentes, El espejo enterrado: reflexiones sobre España y América (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992).

Eduardo Galeano, De Las venas abiertas de América Latina a Memoria del fuego(Montevideo : Universidad de la República, 1987). 

Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America.Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent (Monthly Review Press, 1997).

Hernán Horna, A People's History of Latin America (Markus Wiener Publishers, 2014).

William Loren Katz, This Day in History: Feb. 2, 1512: Taíno Leader Hatuey Executed in Cuba, Zinn Education Project.

Miguel Leon-Portilla, The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico(Beacon Press, 2006).

También la lluvia (Even the Rain), documentary, directed by Icíar Bollaín, 2012.

Howard Zinn, "Columbus, the Indians, and Human Progress" in A People's History of the United States (Harper Perennial, 2015). Also available as an e-book.

More Doc Chats in 2022!

Doc Chat has wrapped its Fall 2021 season.  You can catch up on past episodes and explore helpful resources on the Doc Chat Channel of the NYPL blog. We'll kick off another lively and thought-provoking season in the the coming weeks. Make sure you don't miss an episode by signing up for NYPL's Research newsletter.