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The Legacy of Christopher Columbus in the Americas
New Nations and a Transatlantic Discourse of Empire

Author(s): Elise Bartosik-Velez

Why is the capital of the United States named in part after Christopher Columbus, a Genoese explorer commissioned by Spain who never set foot on what would become the nation's mainland? Why did Spanish American nationalists in 1819 name a new independent republic "Colombia," after Columbus, the first representative of the empire from which they had recently broken free? These are only two of the introductory questions explored in The Legacy of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, a fundamental recasting of Columbus as an eminently powerful tool in imperial constructs.

Bartosik-Velez seeks to explain the meaning of Christopher Columbus throughout the so-called New World, first in the British American colonies and the United States, as well as in Spanish America, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She argues that during the pre- and post-revolutionary periods, New World societies commonly imagined themselves as legitimate and powerful independent political entities by comparing themselves to the classical empires of Greece and Rome. Columbus, who had been construed as a figure of empire for centuries, fit perfectly into that framework. By adopting him as a national symbol, New World nationalists appeal to Old World notions of empire.

Biography of Author(s)

Elise Bartosik-Velez is Associate Professor of Spanish at Dickinson College.


  • "Bartosik-Velez's account of the making of Christopher Columbus and his fusion with the myth of Aeneas is dazzling and convincing, and it adds a substantial literary dimension to our understanding of how he has been written and read into Western culture. Groundbreaking in its willingness to consider side-by-side the poetics of US and Spanish independence along with the foundations of the Spanish colonial order, the book also gets at the philosophical roots of the connection between independence and empire and the interpretive bind it creates for the voices of revolution in the US and Spanish America."
    --Ronald Briggs, author of Tropes of Enlightenment in the Age of Bolivar
  • "[T]his book should be of interest to many readers. The fact that it is tightly argued and pleasantly written will surely enhance its appeal."
    --Hispanic American Historical Review
  • "[Bartosik-Velez] shows how the use of apocalyptic and prophetic language, and specifically Columbus's self-portrayal as a martyr as he fell from favor formed the basis for a rhetorical distancing from the Spanish Empire upon which later nationalist renditions would depend."
    --Kristine Ibsen, author of Maximilian, Mexico, and the Invention of Empire