Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, August 12, 2021

Maybe in fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue, but it wasn’t until 1507 that anyone bothered to give a name to the continental landmasses he discovered (”discovered” being something of a figurative term, considering Christopher was preceded by Norsemen, various Portuguese/English and other Euros, and of course the Natives themselves).

That makes this year the 500th anniversary of “America” as a geographic signifier. And somehow or another, Amerigo Vespucci finagled his name onto the maps.

It was in 1507, with the publication of a large cut-out map suitable for creating a do-it-yourself globe, that Vespucci’s first name, if not Vespucci himself, achieved lasting renown. On this map, published in the intellectual backwater of St. Dié in Lorraine, the designation “America” (the feminine of Amerigo) was chosen for the portion of the hemisphere where Vespucci claimed to have landed during his second voyage. In 1538, the noted mapmaker Mercator, apparently referring to the earlier map from St. Dié, chose to use the name America to mark not just the southern but also the northern portion of the continent. The rest, as they say, is history. “The tradition was secure,” Fernández-Armesto writes, “the decision irreversible.” And so, because of Mercator and assorted others, more than 350 million of us now call ourselves Americans.

Which is preferable to the likeliest alternative:

As Fernández-Armesto astutely observes, it’s probably a good thing Mercator went with America instead of what might have been the more obvious choice, Christopheria or, say, Columbia. “Columbus has such an ineluctable presence in history,” he writes, “that a hemisphere named after him would never be free of association with him. With every vocalization, images of imperialism, evangelization, colonization, massacre and ecological exchange would spring to mind. The controversies would be constant, the revulsion unendurable.” Since Amerigo Vespucci is a historical nonentity, the term “America” is free of the disturbing connotations that would have been associated with his more famous forebear. “History has made him irrelevant,” Fernández-Armesto writes, “to the major resonances of his own name.” Thanks to the ephemerality of Amerigo Vespucci’s reputation as an explorer, America was given an enduring name.

The United States of Columbia? Or United States of Columbus? We all would be Columbians right now. Who knows what Bogota’s country would be called.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 08/12/2021 10:26:04 PM
Category: History
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