Thursday, April 06, 2006

So, The Earth Isn't Flat ??

I watched a program on HBO last night called “History as Pop Culture.” I really thought the teacher was a little over-the-top in his style, and I am not sure that I agree with all of his assertions about history and its teaching, but it did give me some food for thought.

According to his way of thinking, it is the literature that gives us our history because often we take what is in literary works as the truth rather than the creation of a novelist or poet.

Hence, he says that the belief that Columbus wanted to see if the world was round was not really the case, but rather came because of a book written by Washington Irving about Columbus. Now, I really don’t think I ever learned that Columbus was the first to suggest this theory; possibly he wanted to demonstrate the theory by sailing west to find the East Indies and the spices that were so valuable.

Some give Copernicus credit for inventing the globe, and that is well before Columbus “sailed the ocean blue.” Ptolemy (A.D. 100-165) apparently based his maps on a curved globe.

Most historians credit Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) with theorizing that the Earth must be spherical. He reasoned that because the stars seen in Egypt were not the same as those seen in the north, therefore the Earth could not be flat. He also wrote, “… the horizon always changes with a change in our position,” “which proves that the earth is convex and spherical.” [This appears to only consider thinkers in “western” cultures and not China or other “eastern” cultures or the cultures that may have been thriving in North and South America.]

In doing some research, one can point to Gulliver’s Travels and say that Jonathan Swift may have helped to create the Earth is flat myth in his writing. Thomas Bullfinch another American author may also have promoted the belief that the ancients did not realize the Earth was round. Other modern writers also presented the world is flat idea in their writings – Darwin, Kipling, and Doyle.

Of course we must also concede that there probably were always people who believed the world to be flat and there may still be some of those people.


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