Rethinking Columbus

One of the most popular teaching activities on the Zinn Education Project website is The People vs. Columbus, et al. which challenges student to critically examine the motivations for and impact of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in Hispaniola. The lesson is a role play in the form of a trial to determine who is responsible for the death of millions of Tainos on the island of Hispaniola in the late 15th century.

This activity was originally published by Rethinking Schools in Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years.

Download the The People vs. Columbus, et al. teaching activity. View more resources for rethinking Columbus. View resources on Native American history. Read a critique of current textbooks: The New (and Improved?) Textbook Columbus by Bill Bigelow.


What Teachers are Saying About The People vs. Columbus, et al.


“I always begin my U.S. history course with The People vs. Columbus, et al.

It is amazing how engaged students become to not only learn the truth but also be able to defend themselves using the evidence provided. Students love creativity and this case allows students to come to their own conclusions.”
—Miroslaba “Lili” Velo, U.S. and world history teacher, Tennyson High School, Hayward, Calif.


“The students love it.”

The People vs. Columbus is the most interactive lesson that my class has ever used. The students love it and become enlightened about a perspective on history they have never heard of before.”
—Larry Johns, social studies teacher, Denman Junior High, McComb, Miss.



Students Are Inspired to Share What They Learned

Student Film Critiques Textbook Accounts and Hero Worshipping

D.C. high school teacher Julian Hipkins III used The People vs. Columbus, et al. lesson with his 11th grade U.S. history class at Capital City Public Charter School and introduced them to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Four of his students (Jared, Ana Marie, Jonah, and Mayra) were inspired to make a film called Columbus—The Real Story. Using feature film clips and interviews with school staff, the film critiques and analyzes textbook accounts of Columbus. Columbus—The Real Story was selected as a D.C. citywide entry for the 2011 National History Day competition.

High school student filmmakers Jared, Ana Marie, Jonah, and Mayra (not pictured) made “Columbus – The Hidden Story” for the 2011 National History Day competition.

Columbus – The Hidden History on Vimeo.