The Contentious History of Columbus Day

Kolodny-Front-Cover-WebToday many workers around the U.S. are enjoying a day off to honor Columbus Day. But did you know that tomorrow is Leif Erikkson day, established in the early twentieth century to honor America's nordic past? In her book In Search of First Contact: The Vikings of Vinland, the Peoples of the Dawnland, and the Anglo-American Anxiety of Discovery, Annette Kolodny describes the contentious history of Columbus Day. In the late nineteenth-century, some Americans of Anglo-Saxon background were uncomfortable with Columbus's Catholic, Southern European roots and wished to emphasize instead the Nordic discovery of America. A model of a Viking ship was featured at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and efforts were made to erect statues of Eriksson in prominent places. Of course, the Native Americans were not even a factor in conversations at the time! Kolodny's book complicates the idea of "first contact" and the "discovery" of America.

Kolodny will be in New York City for a lecture at Scandinavia House tomorrow, October 9, which is officially Leif Eriksson Day. The event  coincides with the exhibition "Saga Sites: Landscapes of the Icelandic Sagas." You can read the introduction to her book here, and read an excerpt about the display of the Viking Punch Bowl at the 1893 Chicago World's Columbian Exposition here.

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