|"Islands and ice, mostly," says Bill Rankin of his map Actual European Discoveries.|
(Click the link below for a larger version to see detail.)
The term for the longest time has been discovery. Older histories (and the general public still) used “Columbus’s discoveries” or “Columbus discovered America” and the like. But this has been pointed out to be Eurocentric. Columbus ran across places that other people had already discovered! They were discovered by the indigenes who lived there! So scholars, like Brian Harley, used terms such as the “Columbian encounter.” The word encounter, indeed, has become the popular term used in academe these days, though it has its detractors. “Encounter” is here to stay alongside “discovery.” As Marvin Lunenfeld writes in the introduction to 1492—Discovery, Invasion, Encounter: “The neutral word encounter has recently come into general scholarly use. Encounter seems friendly enough, evoking the idea of social gatherings…. If all that happened in 1492 was that Columbus ‘encountered’ the Amerindians, the historian would successfully escape the ethnocentric connotations of a discovery and the violent implications of an invasion.”
Dr. Bill Rankin, Assistant Professor of History of Science at Yale University, has constructed a map titled Actual European Discoveries for his website Radical Cartography that shows just what little Europeans actually discovered in the sense of no other humans were there to greet them. As Rankin notes (a tad sarcastically, he admits): “Every Columbus Day, we’re reminded of the difference between discovery and “discovery”—and rightly so. But let's not sell Europe short; after all, European explorers found plenty of diminutive islands that no human had ever seen before, along with extravagant amounts of ice and snow.”
If the Society for the History of Discoveries was holding its fourth annual meeting this year instead of its fifty-fourth, would it be named the “Society for the History of Encounters”?