Christopher Columbus and Early European Exploration
This research guide will focus on primary and secondary sources in the collection of the New York Public Library pertinent to the four voyages made by Columbus. It will also cover other Spanish explorations, Native American reactions, and the methodology for researching the Library's catalogs for material on other relevant explorers and countries.
Christopher Columbus undertook his first voyage across the Atlantic over 500 years ago. Since then, the course of history for both the civilizations he encountered and those he represented has been irrevocably altered. This research guide will focus on primary and secondary sources in the collection of the New York Public Library pertinent to the four voyages made by Columbus. It will also cover other Spanish explorations, Native American reactions, and the methodology for researching the Library's catalogs for material on other relevant explorers and countries.
If you need further assistance, visit our reference desk, or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using the Library’s Catalogs
General instructions for locating materials are given in the Research Guide, How Do I Find a Book?. Specific methods for locating additional materials on this topic are located at the end of each section.
The four voyages of Columbus (1492-93; 1493-96; 1498-1500; 1502-04) opened the way for the exploration, exploitation, and colonization of the Americas by Europe. There are no surviving manuscripts in Columbus' own hand describing these voyages. Instead, historians have relied upon the following documents:
The term "Columbus letter" usually refers to one of the fifteenth-century printed editions of a letter from his first voyage announcing his "discovery" of America. A traditional view holds that Columbus wrote three letters: one addressed to Luis de Santangel, Keeper of Accounts of Aragon, dated February 15th, 1493; a second addressed to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, of which no copy has survived; a third sent to Gabriel Sanchez, Treasurer of Aragon, dated March 15th, 1493. Recent thinking on the subject is that all three letters were derived from a single manuscript sent to Ferdinand and Isabella from which copies were then made and endorsed to several court officials.
The New York Public Library has facsimile copies of all seventeen surviving editions known to have been published before 1501 in Spanish, Latin, Italian, and German. While the Library is in actual possession of unique copies of both the Santangel and Sanchez letters, these, for obvious reasons, are not offered for public viewing or access. A copy of the Santangel Letter is kept at the Information Desk in Room 315. Ask a librarian there for assistance.
The following list of books includes translations and analyses of these letters which are suitable for most research needs.
Columbus, Christopher, The Letter of Columbus on His Discovery of the New World (Los Angeles: USC Fine Arts Press, 1989). HAN 89-21486.
Major, Richard Henry, The Bibliography of the First Letter of Christopher Columbus Describing His Discovery of the New World (London: Ellis & White, 1872). HAM.
A New and Fresh English Translation of the Letter of Columbus Announcing the Discovery of America (by) Samuel Eliot Morison (Madrid: Graficas Yagues, 1959). JAX B-2175.
Columbo, Cristoforo, The Spanish Letter of Columbus to Luis de Sant' Angel, Escribano de Racion of the Kingdom of Aragon, Dated 15 February, 1493 (London: G. Norman and Son, Printers, 1893). *ZH-654.
In the Dictionary Catalog, further items can be found under the relevant subject headings:
- Columbus, Christopher. Letters.
Columbus, Christopher. Letter to Sanchez.
Columbus, Christopher. Letter to Santagel.
In CATNYP, use a subject or keyword search on:
Columbus Christopher correspondence
The journal that Columbus kept of his first voyage to America and presented to Ferdinand and Isabella upon his return to Spain has not survived in its original form. The journal is known to us today only in the abridgement of Bartolome de las Casas, a partly quoted and partly summarized version of the original. The following are scholarly transcriptions and translations of this document.
Columbus, Christopher, The Diario of Christopher Columbus's First Voyage to America, 1492-1493, abstracted by Fray Bartolome de las Casas, Oliver Dunn and James E. Kelley, Jr., trs. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989). HAN 89-4493.
Columbus, Christopher, The Journal of Christopher Columbus, Cecil Jane, tr. (L.A. Vigneras, reviser and annotator) (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1960). HAN 1960.
Columbus, Christopher, Journal of the First Voyage of Christopher Columbus, B.W. Ife, ed./tr. (Westminster, England: Aris & Phillips, Ltd., 1990). HAN 91-5853.
Columbus, Christopher, The Log of Christopher Columbus, Robert H. Fuson, tr. (Camden, ME: International Marine Publishing Co., 1987). HAN 88-288.
Columbus, Christopher, Select Documents Illustrating the Four Voyages of Columbus, Including Those Contained in R.H. Major's Select Letters of Christopher Columbus (Reprint: Hakluyt Society, Works, Second Series) (Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1967). JFL 75-29 / 2nd Series, nos. 65 & 70.
Henige, David, In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the First Voyage (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991). HAN 91-8063.
In the Dictionary Catalog, subject headings for additional items are:
- Columbus, Christopher. Journal
In CATNYP, use a subject or keyword search on:
- Columbus Christopher diaries
There are as many books about Columbus as there are viewpoints about the man and his accomplishments. The following is just a sampling of these divergent perspectives.
Adams, Herbert Baxter, and Henry Wood, Columbus and His Discovery of America (New York: AMS Press, 1971). HAM 72-2082.
Bradford, Ernle Dusgate Selby, Christopher Columbus (New York: Viking Press, 1973). HAM 74-1511; HAM 75-1334.
The Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia, Silvia A. Bedini, ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992). *R-HAM 91-9569.
Collis, John Stewart, Christopher Columbus (London: Macdonald and Jane's, Ltd., 1976). JFD 77-953; HAM 90-5225.
Columbus, Ferdinand, The Life of the Admiral Christopher Columbus by His Son Ferdinand, Benjamin Keen, tr. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1959). HAM.
Columbus and His World: Proceedings of the First San Salvador Conference, Donald T. Gerace, ed. (Fort Lauderdale: Bahamian Field Station, 1987). HAM 90-8696.
Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe, Columbus (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). *R-HAM 91-8489.
Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe, Columbus and the Conquest of the Impossible (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974). HAM 76-937.
Floyd, Troy S., The Columbus Dynasty in the Caribbean, 1492-1526 (Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1973). HNB 74-1175.
In the Wake of Columbus: Islands and Controversy, Louis De Vorsey, Jr. and John Parker, eds. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985). HAM 85-3309.
Koningsberger, Hans, Columbus: His Enterprise (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1976). HAM 76-1910.
Litvinoff, Barnet, Fourteen Ninety-Two: The Year and the Era (London: Constable, 1991). JFE 91-7068.
McKee, Alexander, A World Too Vast: The Four Voyages of Columbus (London: Souvenir Press, 1990). HAM 90-9819.
Morison, Samuel Eliot, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1942). HAM 1942.
Morison, Samuel Eliot, Christopher Columbus, Mariner (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1955). HAM.
Morison, Samuel Eliot, The Second Voyage of Christopher Columbus (London: Oxford University Press, 1939). HAM 1939.
Morison, Samuel Eliot, and Mauricio Obregon, The Caribbean as Columbus Saw It (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1964). HAI 1964.
Provost, Foster, Columbus: An Annotated Guide to the Study On His Life and Writings, 1750-1988 (Detroit, MI: Published for the John Carter Brown Library by Omnigraphics, Inc., 1991). *RS-HAM 91-5358; available at the South Hall Desk.
Sale, Kirkpatrick, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbia Legacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990). HAM 90-13326.
Taviani, Paolo Emilio, Christopher Columbus: The Grand Design (London: Orbis, 1985). HAM 87-738.
Taviani, Paolo Emilio, Columbus, The Great Adventure: His Life, His Times, and His Voyages (New York: Orion Books, 1991). JFE 91-8810.
United States. Library of Congress. Division of Bibliography. Christopher Columbus: A Selected List of Books and Articles, Donald H. Mugridge, ed. (Washington, D.C., 1950). HAE p.v. 305.
Wilford, John Noble, The Mysterious History of Columbus: An Exploration of the Man, The Myth, The Legacy (New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1991). HAM 91-9629.
Look under Columbus, Christopher in the catalogs to find further biographies. Similarly, look under the names of any other specific explorers to find works written about, or by, them.
Post-Columbus: Conquest And Colonization
Subsequent voyages to the Americas by the major European sea powers followed rapidly after Columbus's initial expedition. Following is a brief sampling of the many items in the Library's collection relevant to these travels.
First Encounters: Spanish Explorations in the Caribbean and the United States, 1492-1570
MDNM¯, Jerald T. Milanich and Susan Milbrath, eds. (Gainesville: University of Florida Press: Florida Museum of Natural History, 1989).
Gordon, Thomas Francis, The History of America: Containing the History of the Spanish Discoveries Prior to 1520 (Philadelphia: Carey & Lea, 1831). *Z-5583 no. 1.
Hoffman, Paul E., A New Andalucia and a Way to the Orient: The American Southeast During the Sixteenth Century (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1990). HAI 90-12962.
Kirkpatrick, Frederick Alexander, The Spanish Conquistadores (London: The Cresset Library, 1988). HAI 89-17074.
Nebenzahl, Kenneth, Atlas of Columbus and the Great Discoveries (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1990). Map Division 91-7246.
New American World: A Documentary History of North America to 1612 in Five Volumes, David B. Quinn, Alison M. Quinn, Susan Hillier, eds. (New York: Arno Press, 1979). HV 79-1250.
The Spanish in America: 1513-1979: A Chronology and Fact Book, Arthur A. Natella, Jr., ed. (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1980). HAI 80-3036.
Spanish Colonial Frontier Research, Henry F. Dobyns, ed. (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Anthropological Studies, 1980). IT 88-1041.
Spanish Exploration in the Southwest, 1542-1706 (Original Narratives of Early American History), Herbert Eugene Bolton, ed. (New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1930). *Z-5572 no.2.
Spanish Explorers in the Southern United States, 1526-1543 (Original Narratives of Early American History) (Austin, TX: Texas State Historical Society, 1990). HAI 90-11356.
Weddle, Robert S., Spanish Sea: The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685 (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1985). HAI 85-2619.
Discovery, An Exhibition of Books Relating to the Age of Geographical Discovery and Exploration
(Bloomington, Indiana: Lilly Library, 1965).
The Hakluyt Handbook, David Beers Quinn, ed. (London: The Hakluyt Society, 1974). *R-KBC 76-3402 and JFL 75-29 2nd Series, nos. 144-145. Lists all the works published by the Society, established in 1846 and renowned for its scholarly editions of records of voyages, travels, and other geographical material.
Pioneers and Explorers in North America: Summaries of Biographical Articles in History Journals, Pamela R. Byrne and Susan K. Kinnell, eds. (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1988). JFE 88-1948.
Morison, Samuel Eliot, The European Discovery of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971-1974). HAI 71-450.
Morison, Samuel Eliot, The Great Explorers: The European Discovery of America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978). *R-KH 79-4650.
Quinn, David Beers, England and the Discovery of America, 1481-1620 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974). HAI 75-216.
Quinn, David Beers, North America From the Earliest Discovery to First Settlements: The Norse Voyages to 1612 (New York: Harper & Row, 1977). HAI 77-2442.
Tomlinson, Regina Johnson, The Struggle for Brazil: Portugal and "The French Interlopers" (1500-1550) (New York: Las Americas Publishing Co., 1970). HFB 72-795.
The following list encompasses the subject headings used to search for further items:
In the Dictionary Catalog:
- America - Description and Travel, to 1800
America - Discovery
America - Discovery, Pre-Columbian
America - Discovery, Post-Columbian
Voyages and Travels, to 1500
Voyages and Travels, 1500-1600
Voyages and Travels, 1600-1700
Voyages and Travels, History (By Century)
(Note: See also names of individual explorers)
- America - Discovery and Exploration
(Note: these can be geographically subdivided: -Spain; -France; -England; -Portugal; see also names of individual explorers)
The Clash of Cultures
The civilizations and cultures of Native Americans were irrevocably altered after the events of 1492. The resulting clash of cultures continues to the present day.
Berhofer, Robert F., The White Man's Indian: The History of an Idea From Columbus to the Present (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978). HBC 78-1802.
Casas, Bartolome de las, Historia de las Indias (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1951). HBC.
Chamberlin. J.E., The Harrowing of Eden: White Attitudes Toward Native Americans (New York: Seabury Press, 1975). HBC 76-216.
Cultures in Contact: The Impact of European Contacts on Native American Cultural Institutions A.D. 1000-1800, William W. Fitzhugh, ed. (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985). HBC 86-1574.
Garcilaso de la Vega, el Inca, Comentarios Reales de los Incas (Lima: Libreria Internacional del Peru, 1959). HHH.
Hanke, Lewis, The First Social Experiments in America: A Study in the Development of Spanish Indian Policy in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1935). HNB.
Hecht, Robert, Continents in Collision: The Impact of Europe on the North American Indian Societies (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1980). HBC 81-981 and HBC 81-981 Suppl.
Huddleston, Lee E., Origins of the American Indians: European Concepts, 1492-1729 (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1967). HBC.
Jennings, Francis, The Invasion of America: Indians, Colonialism, and the Cant of Conquest (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1975). IQ 79-525.
Sale, Kirkpatrick, The Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990). HAM 90-13326.
Thornton, Russell, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987). HBC 88-564.
Tyler, S. Lyman, Two Worlds: The Indian Encounter With the European, 1492-1509 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1988). HBC 88-2810.
Additional items can be found under these subject headings:
In the Dictionary Catalog:
- Indians, American
- Indians of North America - First Contact With Occidental Civilization
(Note: see also Research Guide, Native North America)
Journals And Periodical Literature
Journals and periodicals are a sometimes overlooked source of scholarly research. The following indexes provide citations to a broad array of journals dealing with the field of history, in general, and Columbus and the Quincentennial, in particular.
America: History and Life, Vol. 0 (1954-1963)- (Santa Barbara, CA: American Bibliographical Center: Clio Press, 1972- ). *R-IAA+ (America History and Life).
C.R.I.S.: The Combined Retrospective Index to Journals in History, 1838-1974, Annadel N. Wile and Deborah Purcell, eds. (Washington: Carrollton Press, 1977-78). *RS-BAA 77-4040.
Hispanic American Periodical Index (HAPI) (Los Angeles: University of California Latin American Center Publications, 1970- ). *R-*D 78-578.
Historical Abstracts (the series splits after Vol. 17; beginning with Vol. 18 use only Part A: Modern History Abstracts 1450-1914) (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1955- ). *RB-BAA 74-867.
Humanities Index (New York: H.W. Wilson, 1974- ). *R-*D 75-1125 (online from February, 1984- ).
Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature (New York: H.W. Wilson, 1900- ). *R-*D (online from 1983- ).
In addition, there are numerous journals chronicling the events and issues related to the Quincentennial. Recent issues (i.e., past year) are available in Current Periodicals, located in Room 108 of the Library.
America 92: Boletin Informativo de la Comision Nacional del V Centenario del Descubrimiento de America (Madrid: La Comision, 1984- ). Available in Room 108.
Cultural Survival Quarterly (Cambridge, MA: Cultural Survival, Inc., 1982- ). JFM 85-121.
Encounters: A Quincentenary Review (Albuquerque, NM: Latin American Institute of the University of New Mexico, 1989- ). JFM 90-214.
(See also Research Guide, How to Find Periodicals.)