American schools teach that the American continents are named after Amerigo Vespucci because he realized that Columbus had not sailed to Asia but rather a new continent. If this story is true, how did Amerigo realize this? If not, who was first to realize America was a different continent, and what was the evidence for this?
Columbus and everybody else at the time believed that he had discovered the Eastern shores of Asia. Vespucci was one of those amongst the everybody else. An essay by Jonathan Cohen titled, The Naming of America: Fragments we've shored against ourselves, covers the naming of America in some detail. In it, Cohen notes:
Much of this information has been gleaned from Vespucci's letters to his sponsors (also published as Mundus Novus, i.e., New World) where he provides the how he knew that it was not Asia and was instead a new continent that he had discovered:
In other words, Vespucci concluded that he had discovered a continent based on the following facts:
A resulting map from 1507 which is often credited as the source for the name America looked like this:
coleopterist has made a good answer, but I will add a few details that are less obvious and not easy to glean from the literature.
First of all, the fiction that Columbus had discovered the Indies was maintained for quite long time, up to about 1520 when it became patently obvious that the two places were different. This fiction was maintained not because people were fooled by it, but because it was politically expedient. As long as people thought that Spain had reached the spice-rich Indies, it was beneficial to the crown.
In truth, among experts and experienced navigators it was well known secretely almost immediately that Columbus had found some new place because it was known that the Arabs were widespread in Southeast Asia and these people were not present in the new world.
After the first voyage of Columbus there was some question, because there was the possibility he had somehow found some remote, outlying islands of the Indies. However, when ships from Columbus' massive second expedition began returning in 1495 and 1496 it rapidly became clear to experts that it was a new place because the inhabitants were much more primitive than India was known to be and there were no Arabs there or any other ships (such as those from China) at all for that matter. Since there were no Indian, Chinese or Arab ships anywhere and the people were all naked savages with no knowledge of bronze or other technology, it was clear it was a new place.
protected by Semaphore Sep 1 '15 at 13:47
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