I have this question which states "How does the story of Columbus illustrate that the purpose of history is ideological?" Unfortunately, I am having trouble understanding what exactly the question is trying to ask. Can someone elaborate for me?

  • 5
    I think you would be better off asking your teacher what they expect.
    – Semaphore
    Jul 25 '15 at 9:29
  • its summer questions so I can't :(
    – leonardo
    Jul 25 '15 at 16:41
  • 1
    I think it is more indicative of the question-asker's political biases, rather than having any objective meaning.
    – jamesqf
    Jul 25 '15 at 19:15
  • 3
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it seems to be a homework question.
    – Tom Au
    Jul 25 '15 at 22:49
  • It is a homework question but as you can see I wanted someone to elaborate what the question is asking. I'm not asking for the answer mate.
    – leonardo
    Jul 26 '15 at 12:52

Max Weber has a great quote on culture:

'Culture' is a finite segment of the meaningless infinity of the world process, a segment on which human beings confer meaning and significance.

Well, the same goes for the history. There are an infinity of possible facts that a historian could study, a teacher teach, or a politician or activist mention in a speech. Ideology helps us decide which segment of that meaningless infinity of the world process we will confer significance upon and call "history."

  • As for Columbus, it would go: Which aspect of Columbus do we remember? Pious Christian discovering new lands, or cruel exploiter of native peoples? And also, who remembers? Why do Italian Americans celebrate Columbus Day while American Indians do not? (The answer there, of course, is obvious.)
    – two sheds
    Jul 25 '15 at 14:11

The word history is used to describe both past events themselves, and the study and recording of past events. Those who study history inevitably put it into a contemporary, ideological context.

Say you are writing a history of the second world war. When did it start? When Japan invaded China? When Germany invaded Poland? When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor? You have to make a choice, and that is ideological.

Regarding Columbus, consider these questions:

  • What reason is given for the voyage?
  • What did he find?
  • Why is his voyage prominent in the history books, and not the earlier Viking voyages?

Edit/Postscriptum: Did Columbus discover America? Or did he recontact it? What do the history books say, and what does the choice of words say about the viewpoint of the speaker?

  • Just to nitpick, the third question about Columbus has a clear answer: Viking (and probably polinesian) discoveries are difficult to document/prove and, worst of all, they were eventually forgotten so they were not significant historically (unless you can claim that such contacts have shaped the current realities of America and the rest of the world).
    – SJuan76
    Jul 27 '15 at 20:02
  • @leonardo - I think that the point of the question, with all its obvious defects, is made by the old Jewish joke about the arrival of Columbus in America, when one native American says to another: "Thank God, we are discovered!" I could enlarge on the history of ideology and its modern connotations and give you advice on how to approach the issue, but I see that it is now forbidden by the powers. Jul 29 '15 at 6:27
  • Applying not the Marxist or Sartrean idea of ideology which is, by and large, discredited, but the more subtle modern form of the concept to the Columbus story would require you to examine the interest-pattern of the participants in the events, and the in-built biases of the system that used the voyages to further their power, economic interests, and see if the ‘discovery’ formulation was really an accurate description or something like an excuse or cover-up for a quite different process. 'Ideology' is one of those useful but easily misused terms that should, perhaps, carry a health warning. Jul 29 '15 at 6:34

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