In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Christopher Columbus

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classic Studies
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Origins And Early Life To 1492
  • Columbus And His Circle
  • Geographical Knowledge And Speculations
  • Navigation And Seamanship
  • Religion
  • Legacies
  • Iconography

Renaissance and Reformation Christopher Columbus
William D. Phillips
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0029


Christopher Columbus and his voyages captured the imagination of contemporaries and have continued to fascinate admirers through the centuries as well as a growing number of detractors. The extensive sources and studies give a privileged view into his life and times, especially his post-1492 experiences. The publication dates indicate the high points of activity as editors and authors tended to concentrate their efforts. There was a peak around 1892, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage. In 1942 Samuel Eliot Morison published Admiral of the Ocean Sea (see Classic Studies), a biography that constructed an image of Columbus that became standard in the United States for a half century. Most of the recent contributions of scholarship and edited sources appeared in the years immediately before and after the quincentenary of 1992 with an additional flurry around 2006, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s death. The United States, Spain, and Italy have been the countries where most of the publications have appeared; each of them had major initiatives to support Columbian scholarship in the period around 1992.

General Overviews

Numerous books on Columbus are available, varying from the scholarly to the poorly informed and the polemical. His life and times have been studied for several centuries now. This section lists some of the most scholarly and well documented works. Complete coverage of Columbus and his times can be found in Taviani 1991, stressing the Italian background, Fernández-Armesto 1991, emphasizing the intellectual background and navigation, and Phillips and Phillips 1992, placing Columbus and his actions in the context of world history. The personal life of the admiral is fully treated in Varela 1992. Henige 1991 provides analyses of the sources for the first voyage, whereas Davidson 1997 examines the available sources and offers biting critiques of previous scholars. Varela 2006 is a recent collection of articles by some of the most noted scholars of the Columbian period.

  • Davidson, Miles H. Columbus Then and Now: A Life Reexamined. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.

    Davidson hews to the documents in this account of Columbus, in the course of which he excoriates earlier writers who deviated from the sources and who tried to place the Columbian story in seamless narratives.

  • Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. Columbus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

    An erudite narrative of Columbus and his actions.

  • Henige, David P. In Search of Columbus: The Sources for the First Voyage. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1991.

    Henige was influential in showing how previous writers on Columbus had misused the original sources to fit into often preconceived notions. He was especially concerned about demonstrating that the logbook of the first voyage, because the sailing directions and distances in it were paraphrased by the nonmariner Bartolomé de Las Casas, could not be used to establish a definite place of first landfall in the Americas.

  • Phillips, William D., Jr., and Carla Rahn Phillips. The Worlds of Christopher Columbus. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    A book placing Columbus in his documented contemporary contexts and in the contexts of world history.

  • Taviani, Paolo Emilio. Christopher Columbus: The Grand Design. Novara, Italy: Istituto Geografico de Agostini, 1985.

    Taviani was Italy’s premier expert on Columbus. Examines the genesis of Columbus’s proposal to reach Asia by an Atlantic trajectory.

  • Taviani, Paolo Emilio. Columbus, the Great Adventure: His Life, His Times, and His Voyages. New York: Orion, 1991.

    Provides a well-informed overview of Columbus and his four voyages. Stresses the incompletely documented Genoese background. Taviani was heavily involved in the Nuova Raccolta Colombiana (cited under Recent Source Collections).

  • Varela, Consuelo. Cristóbal Colón: Retrato de un hombre. Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 1992.

    Varela and her husband Juan Gil are the leading Spanish experts on Columbus. Here she examines Columbus the man, investigating his life, his loves, his family, and his ailments.

  • Varela, Consuelo, ed. Cristóbal Colón, 1506–2006: Historia y Leyenda. Palos de la Frontera, Spain: Universidad Internacional de Andalucía, Sede Iberoamericana Santa María de La Rábida, 2006.

    A collection of articles delivered at a conference in 2006 commemorating the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s death.

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