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Seminar: Representing European 'discovery'

This seminar will explore the initial European encounter with the Caribbean in terms of the imaginative discourses projected on to the region that accompanied the practices of ‘discovery’, naming, colonisation and genocide and that played a role in the making of European self-identity.

Seminar questions

  • In his letter announcing his discovery, how did Columbus seek to ‘imaginatively’ colonise the region?
  • What is Columbus’s assessment of the indigenous population? How does he distinguish between different groups of indigenous people?
  • Did Columbus find what he was looking for in the Caribbean? Explain your answer.
  • How did early-modern Europeans imagine the Caribbean and its inhabitants?

Required reading

I want you to read the following primary source, at least one of the secondary items and look over this handout, which provides an 'Introduction to visual analysis'. (There is no need to print this handout out as I will provide a copy in class.)


‘The Letter of Columbus to Luis De Sant Angel Announcing His Discovery’ (1493), (12 September 2018).


Hulme, Peter, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean (London, 1986), chapter 1.

Please also read the following, if you have time:

Boucher, Philip P., ‘First Impressions: Europeans and Island Caribs in the Pre-Colonial Era, 1492-1623’ in Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd (eds), Caribbean Slavery in the Atlantic World: A Student Reader (London, 2000), pp. 100-116.

Further reading

Edmond, Rod and Vanessa Smith (eds), ‘Introduction’ in Islands in History and Representation (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 1-18.

Gillis, J. R., ‘Taking History Offshore: Atlantic Islands in European Minds’ in Edmond, Rod and Vanessa Smith (eds), Islands in History and Representation (London, 2003), pp. 19-31.

Greenblatt, S., Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Oxford, 1991).

Hulme, Peter, Colonial Encounters: Europe and the Native Caribbean (London, 1986), Introduction and Chapter 1.

Hulme, Peter and Neil L. Whitehead (eds), Wild Majesty: Encounters with Caribs from Columbus to the Present Day (London, 1992).

Montrose, L., ‘The work of gender in the discourse of discovery’ in Greenblatt, S. (ed.), New World Encounters (Berkeley, 1991), pp. 177-217.

Pagden, A., European Encounters with the New World (London, 1993).

Phillips, William D., Christopher Columbus (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010-), online bibliographic resource.

Symcox, Geoffrey and Blair Sullivan, Christopher Columbus and the Enterprise of the Indies: A Brief History with Documents (London, 2005).

Watson, Kelly L., Insatiable Appetites: Imperial Encounters with Cannibals in the North Atlantic World (New York, 2015).

Whitehead, Neil L., ‘Carib cannibalism. The historical evidence’, Journal de la Société des Américaniste 70: 1 (1984) pp 70-76.

Other material relating to the first voyage of Columbus’ and early European exploration is available here…

Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus