Films

The Columbus Controversy: Challenging How History Is Written

Film. Written, directed, and produced by Nick Kaufman. 1992. 23 minutes.
Contrasting views and scenes from the classroom on teaching about Columbus.

Time Periods: Colonization: 1492 - 1764
Themes: Native American

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” But then what?

The Columbus Controversy: Challenging How History Is Written is a short film released during the Columbus Quincentenary in 1992.

The film contrasts the views of Seneca historian, writer, and activist John Mohawk and University of Chicago historian William McNeill, who reflect on the legacy of Columbus. The Columbus Controversy also features Zinn Education Project co-director Bill Bigelow—then a teacher at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon—who “steals” a student’s purse and engages his class in reflecting on the problematic use of the word “discovery” to describe Columbus’s arrival in the Americas and his occupation of Taíno land.

The Columbus Controversy demonstrates aspects of critical teaching about Columbus, some of it described in Bill Bigelow’s article, “Discovering Columbus: Re-reading the Past,” and can be used in middle school, high school, and teacher education classes.

Executive producer: Frank Beck. Producer, director, writer: Nick Kaufman. Editor: Mark Lipman. Consultants: Howard Zinn, Kirkpatrick Sale, and Jose Barreiro.