Who Writes History? Rethinking Columbus Day


  • Students will explore why certain historical figures get credit for their accomplishments while others are forgotten.
  • Students will think about historical accuracy.



  1. Ask students to complete these instructions and answer the questions:

    • Pick a person who is prominent in politics, government, science, or literature and write down his/her name.
    • Why did you pick this person and what do you know about him/her?
    • How and where did you get your information?
    • If you lived in a different country, do you think you would have picked the same person to write about? Why or why not?

  2. Distribute the copies of Myths About Explorers and Just Where Was Columbus? and go over them with the students.

  3. Begin a class discussion using the following questions. Write student comments on the chart paper during the discussion to facilitate drawing conclusions at the end.
    • If Columbus was not the first person to discover America, why do most people think he did?
    • Can you name several reasons why you might have thought Columbus discovered America before you learned about other explorers such as Leif Ericson?
    • How does history get remembered?
    • Who decides which historical figure gets credit for a discovery?
    • What does this tell you about the way history is written?

  4. As a concluding activity, ask the following question, review the comments written down during the discussion and ask students to use them to draw conclusions about the nature of history.
    Is history a permanent, unchanging story of the past or is it something that changes over time? (think about the story of Columbus)?
In this lesson plan, students explore their ideas about history and who writes it. The often-repeated "fact" that Christopher Columbus discovered America is the focus of this lesson.
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