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Unit information: Discovering America (Level H Reflective History) in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Discovering America (Level H Reflective History)
Unit code HIST38016
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Jones
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


Covering the 15th century to an (imagined) 23rd, this unit is about the role the 1490s ‘discovery’ voyages, led by Columbus and Cabot, have played in popular consciousness and identity formation of both Europeans and North Americans over a 500-year period. Who were the ‘discoverers’? And how, and why, did they transform from being real-life explorers to mythic embodiments of the American pioneer spirit? How have the reputations of these men changed over time and to what extent do they still inspire policy making and popular aspirations today, whether through multi-billion dollar NASA programmes, or in the form of television programmes that imagine futures where explorers ‘boldly go where no-man has gone before’? These are some of the questions we will be asking in a unit that is as much about the reception and meaning of the discovery voyages as it is about those who led them.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will have developed:

  1. an advanced comprehension of the ways in which explorers of the fifteenth century have been regarded and remembered in successive centuries
  2. an ability to express their independent responses to the materials which they have encountered in this course
  3. a heightened understanding of the particular and unique skills that historians acquire and of the way in which they apply those skills to a specific task
  4. a deeper understanding of their own individual acquisition and application of those skills, self-reflection being an important attribute of the historian

Teaching details

Seminars - 2 hours per week

Assessment Details

2-hour exam (100%) [ILOs 1-4]

Reading and References

  • C. L. Bushman, America Discovers Columbus: How an Italian explorer became an American Hero (Univ. Press New England, 1992)
  • J. H. Elliott, The Old World and the New, 1492-1650 (CUP, 1970)
  • E. T. Jones, 'Alwyn Ruddock: ‘John Cabot and the Discovery of America ', Historical Research, 81 (2008)
  • John P. Larner, 'North American Hero? Christopher Columbus 1702-2002’, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 137 (1993), 46-63
  • P. Pope, The Many Landfalls of John Cabot (Toronto, 1997)
  • K. Sale, Christopher Columbus and the Conquest of Paradise (London 1991)
  • T. Schlereth, 'Columbia, Columbus and Columbianism', Journal of American History, 79 (1992), 937-968