Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's In a Name?

One of the great things about serving on a textbook adoption committee is you get to review and usually keep several editions of various textbooks that can become valuable resources.

It’s always interesting to see how the different publishing companies treat certain events. Today my interest is drawn to Giovanni Cabato, or John Cabot.

Houghton Mifflin’s Social Studies provides a three page discussion of Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Exchange. The text then launches into the expeditions of Pedro Alvarez Cabral (1500), Amerigo Vespucci (1499), Vasco Nunez de Balboa (1501), and Ferdinand Magellan (1519) and mentions the map created by Martin Waldseemuller in 1507 (the map pictured with this post) that is credited with using the word America for this first time. Explorer Amerigo Vespucci is the usual choice to explain where the word America came from, right?

Scott Foresman’s Building a Nation also provides three pages to Christopher Columbus and includes the Columbian Exchange. Some of the same explorers are mentioned above as well. Harcourt’s Horizons, however, is the only textbook reviewed by my committee that mentions the explorer Cabato. The text in Harcourt’s book states, “In 1497, the king of England paid an Italian sailor named Giovanni Cabato to lead an expedition….”
How sad…..students in school systems across the nation who are using Houghton Mifflin (my school system) or Scott Foresman’s book and elementary teachers who have more background in math, language arts, or science are loosing out on a great accomplishment and very interesting story.

One of the activities I often provided in my classroom is to allow students to peruse various texts and look for the inclusion of the name Giovanni Cabato. It’s a great way to prove to students that textbooks are a great tool for learning, but they aren’t the only tool.

Sometimes…..we (meaning students and teachers) have to get out of the book for the rest of the story. Cabato’s story gives us that opportunity and provided me with the details behind my wordless image this week.

Cabato’s expedition set a course that was much further north than Columbus, and most sources agree that he reached what we refer to today as Newfoundland. Like Columbus, Cabato was certain he had reached Cathay (referring to East Asia/China) and returned to England telling tales of the fish that could be simply scooped up by the bucketfuls.

Now….getting back to the wordless image. It is a coat of arms belonging to one Richard Ameryk (also spelled Amerike) of Long Ashton and Bristol, England. He was a merchant, served three times as the King’s Customs Officer, and served as the sheriff of Bristol in 1497. There is documentation that Ameryk was involved in paying Cabato his pension as the seaman following his receipt of a letter of authority from King Henry VII directing Cabato to set sail and claim lands for the crown. Ameryk may have been involved with the building of Cabato’s ship, the Matthew as well.

It is a common argument today (and a rather fun one) that America was not named for Amerigo Vespucci, but was actually named for Richard Ameryk in recognition for the help he gave to Cabato. A book by Sam Llewellyn titled Small Parts in History mentions a calendar found in the city of Bristol for the year 1497 and it mentions America by name. This would be two years before Vespucci ever set sail for the New World and ten years before Waldseemuller’s map.

Many state the story lacks real hard evidence, however, Rodney Broome’s books titled Terra Incognita (2001) and The Briton America Is Named For (2002) are interesting reads for further details.

I love this story simply because it doesn’t matter which theory you agree with because every point of proof seems to have a point that counters the information. This provides a terrific opportunity for students. They love puzzles and they love detective work. In the past I’ve given students the basics of the story, provided a few bookmarked weblinks and asked them to find out as much as they can in teams. Once they have collected the information they analyze and discuss the facts to come up with a position regarding who America was named for. The position and the facts they use to support it become the basis for a position paper.


Alasandra, The Cats and Dogs said...

Thank you for a very educational post.

Rebecca Mecomber said...

Just as a sidenote, have you ever read Columbus' journal or his book "Prophecies"? I've read segments and it makes for shocking reading (shocking as in compared to what textbooks have said of him).

EHT said...

No, thank you, Alasandra! I appreciate the comments and support you have always given History Is Elementary.

Mrs. Mecomber, your blog looks real spiffy. I like the look. I left you a comment regarding Columbus' journals. I've only read snippits. I think they should be part of middle and high school history curriculum. I have not read Prophecies....I'll have to check it out. Thanks!