The Discovery of Mankind: Atlantic Encounters in the Age of Columbus

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The first landings in the Atlantic World generated striking and terrifying impressions of unknown peoples who were entirely foreign to anything in European explorers experience. From the first recorded encounters with the native inhabitants of the Canary Islands in 1341 to Columbus's explorations in 1492 and Cabral's discovery of Brazil in 1500, western Europeans struggled to make sense of the existence of the peoples they met. Were they Adam's children, of a common lineage with the peoples of the Old World, or were they a separate creation, the monstrous races of medieval legend? Should they govern themselves? Did they have the right to be free? Did they know God? Could they know God? Emphasizing contact between peoples rather than the discovery of lands, and using archaeological findings as well as eyewitness accounts, David Abulafia explores the social lives of the New World inhabitants, the motivations and tensions of the first transactions with Europeans, and the swift transmutation of wonder to vicious exploitation. Lucid, readable, and scrupulously researched, this is a work of humane engagement with a period in which a tragically violent standard was set for European conquest across the world.
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Editorial Reviews


"Abulafia brings together much scattered scholarship and gives due prominence to the neglected significance of the conquest of the Canaries. A well-researched and lucid study that rightly eschews and disdains postmodernist jargon and obfuscation. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

The Historian

Abulafia writes in an entertaining, engaging style that will appeal to specialists and nonspecialists alike."—Gayle K. Brunelle, The Historian

— Gayle K. Brunelle

Jorge Canizares-Esguerra
"Age-old exposure to the Bible and the classics left Mediterranean observers poorly prepared to interpret the societies they encountered from the fourteenth to the early sixteenth centuries in the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, and Brazil. Abulafia painstakingly recreates the spiral of violence that overwhelmed and destroyed 'stone-age' societies that had developed largely in isolation. Abulafia also offers a learned account of the emergence of new European anthropologies that sought to transform radically alien others into familiarly pliant Christian laborers."—Jorge Canizares-Esguerra, University of Texas at Austin
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
"With equal skills as scholar and story-teller, David Abulafia gets to the heart of a subject that matters to today's world: how our understanding of human nature began to emerge in the late medieval Atlantic, where each new encounter between previously unfamiliar peoples and cultures challenged and transformed existing notions. No other book covers the subject so thoroughly or approaches it with such brilliance."—Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, Tufts University
Peter Mancall
"David Abulafia's masterful study reorients our understanding of the age of Columbus. His meticulous research takes us to the Canary Islands, the Caribbean, and Brazil and puts the European 'discovery' of the Americas into an Atlantic context where it belongs. With extraordinary erudition and sophistication he shows us how the encounter with the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere shaped early modern European culture."—Peter Mancall, University of Southern California
Matthew Restall
"From its eye-catching title to its masterful conclusion, this erudite exploration of responses by Iberians and Italians to the peoples they found at the end of the fifteenth century is both unabashedly old-school and engagingly new. Abulafia's vast essay is as illuminating as it is readable."—Matthew Restall, Penn State University, author of Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest
"Abulafia brings together much scattered scholarship and gives due prominence to the neglected significance of the conquest of the Canaries. A well-researched and lucid study that rightly eschews and disdains postmodernist jargon and obfuscation. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice
The Historian - Alison Williams Lewin
"[Abulafia's book is] extensively researched, painstakingly argued, and constantly true to the words of the explorers themselves. . . . Anyone interested in voyages of discovery, in intellectual history, and in ways cultures react to one another will enjoy and profit from The Discovery of Mankind."—Alison Williams Lewin, The Historian
The Historian - Gayle K. Brunelle
Abulafia writes in an entertaining, engaging style that will appeal to specialists and nonspecialists alike."—Gayle K. Brunelle, The Historian
Terrae Incognitae - Russell Magnaghi
"Abulafia's work provides the key to unlock developments not only among the Spaniards but also among other Europeans in the New World. . . . [he] helps us to understand such problems not only in the past but also in our own world and, no doubt, into the future."—Russell Magnaghi, Terrae Incognitae
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300158212
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 9/29/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 408
  • Sales rank: 1,028,296
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David Abulafia is professor of Mediterranean History at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Spain and 1492, Mediterranean Encounters, and The New Cambridge Medieval History, Volume 5, c.1198–c.1300.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations     xi
List of Maps     xiv
Preface     xv
Dramatis Personae     xix
Glossary     xxiv
Mental Horizons: The Peoples, Islands and Shores of the Imagination     1
Finding People from Other Worlds     3
Was Mankind Created More Than Once?     3
Was Intelligent Life Created More Than Once?     7
Wild Men and Wanderers     10
Columbus Sets his Course, August 1492     10
Strange Peoples     14
Wild Men of the West     18
Wild Men of the East     20
Men without Reason     21
Images of Asia     24
Rumours of Japan     24
Letters to the Rulers of the Orient     27
Eastern Horizons: The Peoples, Islands and Shores of the Eastern Atlantic     31
Innocence and Wildness in the Canary Islands, 1341-1400     33
Seven Miniature Continents     33
The View from Florence, 1341     36
A Pastoral Idyll     40
Wild Solitude     42
The Revelation to the Pagans, 1400     44
The Canary Islanders, 1341-1496     49
Uncontaminated Gentiles     49
IslandBerbers     51
The Naked and the Clothed     54
Pagan Rites     58
Divided Realms     62
Rights of Dominion, 1341-1496     65
Contrasting Priorities, 1341-51     65
The Grumbling Canon of Zurich, 1370/1450     68
Missions to the Edges of the World, 1344-1400     70
Quarrelsome Conquerors, 1402-44     76
Chivalry and Greed, 1402-4     76
Prince Henry's Ambitions, 1424-36     82
Nearly Wild Men, 1436-60     86
Gold and Slaves, 1444-96     90
Black and Brown Slaves, 1444     90
Africa in Western Eyes     92
Castile Claims its Share, 1479-96     95
Western Horizons: The Peoples, Islands and Shores of the Western Atlantic     103
From the Old Canaries to the New Canaries, 1492     105
The Island of the Holy Saviour, 12 October 1492     105
Simple and Beautiful People, October 1492     110
Tainos and Caribs     115
Early Peoples of the Caribbean     115
The Taino Indians     117
In Harmony with Nature?     119
Chieftains and Families     123
The Caribs     125
Turtles, Shamans and Snorting Tubes     131
A Humble Friar     131
A World outside Time     137
Conversations with the Dead     141
Cuba = Cipangu = Japan, 1492     145
Going from Good to Better, October 1492     145
The Discovery of Cuba, October-November 1492     149
An Imperfect Paradise, November 1492     153
Cannibal Tales, November 1492     155
Spain's New Dominions, November-December 1492     158
La Navidad, 1492-3     162
The Second Spain, December 1492     162
Naked Kings, December 1492     164
The First European Settlement, Christmas 1492     167
First Encounter with the Caribs, January 1493     172
First News of the New World, 1493     175
Reports from Paradise, 1493     175
The Golden Age, 1493/1511     178
A Borgia Divides the World, May 1493     183
Into the Caribbean, 1493-4     187
Columbus Visits the Cannibals, November 1493     187
Violence in Paradise, 1493-4     192
The Spanish Stockade, 1494     196
Misrule in Hispaniola, 1494-6     199
Fleeting Glimpses of Cathay, 1494-5     199
Pacification by Means of War, 1494      201
Handcuffs from Heaven, 1495     206
Tribute in Gold, 1495-6     207
The Project Unravels, 1497-8     213
A Pear-Shaped World, 1498     213
'In Their Demeanour Like to Brute Beasts', 1497-8     217
The Virgin and Child of Calicut, 1497-8     220
Columbus Eclipsed, 1498-1506     224
Roldan's Rebellion, 1498     224
Towards the Lands of the Mayas, 1502     228
The Moon Turns to Blood, 1503-4     235
Encomienda Tribute     238
Southern Horizons: The Peoples and Shores of Atlantic South America     239
Vespucci's Tabloid Journalism, 1497-1504     241
A Florentine Publicist     241
A Voyage of the Imagination, 1497     244
Vespucci's Cannibals, 1499     251
Slavers and their Victims, 1499-1504     258
America is Born, 1507     260
The Land of the Holy Cross, 1500     262
The Lands of the Tupinamba     262
The Great Blemish     265
Cabral's Landfall, April 1500     268
Cabral among the Tupi Indians, April 1500     271
An Innocent People, May 1500     274
The Realm of King Arosca, 1505      278
Brazilwood and Black Slaves, 1501-11     278
A Lost French Ship, 1503-4     279
Cruel Eaters of Men, 1504     282
A Compulsory Voluntary 'Requirement', 1511-20     286
The Church in the New World, 1492-1516     286
Aristotle and the American Indians     288
The Laws of Burgos, 1512     293
The Doctrine of Submission, 1511-13     294
Theory and Practice in Cuba, 1511-13     299
Mexico, a New New World - But Strangely Familiar, 1520     302
Conclusion: The Renaissance Discovery of Man     306
The True Discoverer     306
The Wonder of Discovery     308
The Encounters Continue     310
Abbreviations     314
Notes     317
Bibliography     345
Index     367
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