Your First Assignment(s)

Topic: First Encounters in the New World

  1. Watch: Video Lecture

2) View   “Lost History of the Taino People” 

3) Read Christopher Columbus, “On His First Voyage to America, 1492”  

and Bartolome de Las Casas “Destruction of the Indies”

4) View “New York: Before the City” (with Eric Sanderson)

5) Read:  Biography of Jacob Steendam and his poem “In Praise of New Netherland” (1636) 

6) Post a response to a key episode, line, or theme from one of your readings and from one of the documentaries . Explain what you found to be interesting, disturbing, and/or confusing.

Due Date (Monday, Sept. 13): Next Week is Labor Day Weekend and most classes are cancelled for the week, so I will give you two weeks to complete this first assignment.


  1. Mohammed Islam

    The documentary that stood out to me was “Lost History: Rediscovering Taino People”. The part that was really disturbing to me was when they were talking about the first time Spaniards came to colonize the Taino people. In Cuba, there were rivers of blood from killing all the Taino people. If they didn’t want to accept Christianity, they would be enslaved. It’s crazy to think about how cruel and harsh it was. You can see how “power hungry” the Spaniards were. The graphics were a bit disturbing too. Even though the Taino people fought back, they were no match to the diseases brought over by the Spaniards. I found it sad that some parents would kill their kids and then commit suicide because they couldn’t cope with living in this new world. One thing that I liked was, not everyone was against the Taino people. Some people were against them, some weren’t. If you think about it, if you have more ammunition and guns you can control the other group even if you are outnumbered.

    The reading that stood out to me was “On His First Voyage to America, 1491”. One line in particular that stood out to me was “They firmly believed that I, with my ships and men, came from heaven”. To me, I’m not sure how much I believe that statement. It feels like an egotistical way of looking at it. We can’t tell if it was true or not, but it tells you a lot about how and what he thought about them. It makes it seem as the people were simple minded and weren’t that knowledgable. He also talks about how they would accept broken items for trades and basically called them dumb for it.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent response Mohammed to both texts You make a compelling comment about the amount of bloodshed and destruction while recognizing that there were Spaniards also disgusted by the atrocities . Your point about how we really know what the Tainos really thought about Columbus is only conjecture. We have much much information about how the
      Aztecs felt about Cortes and the Spanish conquerors of Mexico City.

  2. Karina Herreros

    In the video of “Lost History of the Taino People”, I found it very interesting that caves played a special role for the Tainos. This signified the connection between our world and the underworld/spirit world. They also believed that there were two caves, one in which the Taino people came from and another in which non Taino people came from. It was very sad to find out that during the colonization, there were some Taino people who resisted and preferred to kill their own children and then themselves in order to avoid being conquered by the Spaniards.
    In “Destruction of the Indies”, this line really just put me in shock; [A]ll the Indians of all the Indies never once did aught hurt or wrong to Christians, but rather held them to be descended from heaven, from the sky, until many times they or their neighbours received from the Christians many acts of wrongful harm, theft, murder, violence, and vexation. This simply shows that the Spaniards were greedy people who wanted the riches from this land and didn’t care what they had to do in order to do so. The Taino people were enslaved, mistreated, abused and killed if they didn’t do as they were told or didn’t want to convert to Catholics. I just feel that they should’ve negotiated the way Christopher Columbus originally thought as well.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very interesting comments Karina. The destruction and atrocities by the Spaniards were indeed unforgivable. Your comment about the caves is also perceptive — suggesting a very rich culture and religion unique to the Tainos.

  3. sumayah

    (1) “Lost History of the Taino People”
    Very gruesome and interesting. I grew up being taught that Christopher Columbus was a murder rather than an explorer that collided two worlds together. When watching the video, there were pictures that were inserted to show the enslavement of the Spaniards, and they were very devastating and sad to see how much pain suffrage that these people had to go through. A vast majority of us are not exposed to this type of history. When I heard about the TAINO people, it was very new to me, because back in our history classes in high school, we were only taught about the Mayans and the Aztecs and the early civilization of the Egyptians so this was very fascinating to learn about.

    (2) “On His First Voyage to America, 1492”
    I really enjoyed that this letter was very descriptive in each detail, imagery was being used thought out the whole letter which better helped me understand the letter, in the letter Columbus states ”There are wonderful pine woods and very extensive ranges of meadowland. There is honey, and there are many kinds of birds and a great variety of fruits. Inland there are numerous mines of metals and innumerable people” I found this very beautiful because it was very descriptive. I found it very interesting that Columbus had the idea to overturn these people into Christianity, he did everything he can to convinced them into the “holy faith”. He treated them with kindness and respect and gave them almost everything that they wanted. I found it so odd that these people had no religion because without having or believing any religion there’s no purpose in life. Colombus states many times in his letter that these “people” believed that he came from heaven which I found very funny, they gave him food and gold just because they believed they were people of God.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very interesting response Sumayah. I’m glad you enjoyed learning about the Taino people, who indeed are often overlooked in the history books (and classes). Your comment of Columbus’ superb use of detail describe the beauty of the region is also very perceptive. Columbus, despite his now widely maligned character, was a highly educated, Renaissance man in his own right, and his erudite writing shows. This would make for an interesting first paper topic in fact.

  4. Brian Chan

    One of the documentaries that I found to be interesting is New York Before the City. The documentary gives insight on Eric Sanderson and his earlier days. He sometimes thinks to himself asking questions such as how the landscapes work and how they create habitats suitable for life in the area. A key line in the documentary that caught my attention/interest was , “the species that aren’t there anymore.” While this is an interesting line to me, it is also somewhat frightening. Everything seems to have changed so much over the past decades. A land of nothing transformed into what we know today as New York. The quote suggests that progression comes with a price. When the land began to go through changes, this resulted in a habitat more suitable for humans but less suitable for other species of wildlife. A habitat cannot meet the needs of every species. Progression is a good thing, but it comes with a heavy price.

    One of the readings that I found interesting is “On His First Voyage to America, 1492”. The reading is about Christopher Colombus’s experiences throughout his voyage. One of the lines that caught my attention was , “I heard from other Indians I had already taken that this land was an island .” This is because it means that as much as a hero Christopher seemed to be for discovering America, he had taken part in slavery. This is scary because you see people doing many great things but many of us are not aware about what goes on behind the scenes. Usually when we hear about slavery, many of us instantly refer to the African Americans rather than the Native Americans. As discussed earlier, progression comes with a price. Christopher is somewhat both a hero and a villain, but the argument itself is very controversial.

    • Mark Noonan

      Brian, Your theme about ” progression that comes with a price” is very observant, especially as we think about the current climate ills facing the world and NYC today. This would make for a great first paper topic (and title) by the way.

  5. Amina Shabbir

    • The documentary “Lost History of the Taino People” was both disturbing and interesting to me. The part that disturbed me the most was learning about how the early colonial economy was built on the Taino people’s labor and that if they refused to convert to Christianity, they would be enslaved or killed by the Spaniards. Rivers of blood flowed when Spaniards massacred the Taino people in Cuba. The Taino’s were enslaved in the gold mines and on the Spanish plantations by the Spaniards, who took them away from their villages and families during critical periods of the agricultural year. As a result of a failure to cope with the circumstance, parents killed their children and then committed suicide. Overall, knowing about the Taino people’s history and their hardships under colonization seemed interesting to me. It was something that I have never heard or read about in high school. Despite the fact that whatever the Taino people experienced was tragic.
    • The letter “On His First Voyage to America, 1492” by Christopher Columbus was interesting and informative in learning about Columbus’ voyage. What I found most interesting was how he described every little detail of the islands he visited and his interactions with the people. As the letter states that, “Hispaniola is a marvel. Its hills and mountains, \sfine plains and open country, are rich and fertile \sfor planting and for pasturage, and for building \stowns and villages.” This explains Columbus’ efforts to present the islands as ideal for colonization. His depiction of the place emphasizes on the natural resources available and what can be created in the future. There was something I found it very surprising was how Columbus stated in the letter that, “I \sforbade it, and gave a thousand good and pretty things that I had to \swin their love and to induce them to become Christians”. This statement illustrates how he highlights that large number of people who were ready to convert to Catholicism in exchange of things.

    • Mark Noonan

      Superb reading of both texts Amina. The history of the Taino people is indeed tragic but important to know about . You chose a great line from Columbus’ letter to discuss, which capture the beauty of the Caribbean at first contact: “Hispaniola is a marvel. Its hills and mountains, \sfine plains and open country, are rich and fertile \sfor planting and for pasturage, and for building \stowns and villages.”

  6. Mehreen Khanom

    One thing that caught my attention while watching “Lost History of Taino People” was when the man said, “Tainos believed humans were created in two caves, Tainos people came from one cave and all the nun-Tainos people came from another cave.” I found it interesting that they believed such things and thought they are completely different from the non-Tainos. Also, it’s interesting how everything was preserved underwater and no one knows how they survived. All the Tainos objects found underwater play a role that includes worshipping god with the use of these objects.

    “On his First Voyage to America,1492,” a line that I found interesting was “They have no religion nor idolatry, except that they all believe power and goodness to be in heaven.”This sounds too good to be true. The people in Hispaniola trusted Christopher Columbus and welcomed him to their land even though he was new and was a stranger to them. This was only possible because they believed in power and heaven. I find their idea/belief of doing good deeds to enter heaven very fascinating because you can never expect what people will bring to you whether it’s evil or helpful and life-changing.

    • Mark Noonan

      Mehreen, You raise a really significant point on this post about the belief systems of the Taino People and the disregard the Spanish held for them. Clearly, the Native Americans had rich and complex religious beliefs and lush culture despite the very dubious line you quote and smartly comment on:
      “They have no religion nor idolatry, except that they all believe power and goodness to be in heaven.”

  7. majoguadua

    “Lost History of the Taino People”

    I found this documentary very interesting and informative since I particularly did not know about The Taino people. I liked how they mentioned the Taino culture as the way of how this world is physically connected to the underworld. It made me want to know more about it. It was also good to know the first shipwreck of the Americas was the Santa Maria. Another part that stood out to me was when they mentioned how the Spaniards overworked The Taino people in their mines and plantations, and how they took them away from their villages and families. This made me think about us as a society thinking that slavery started in Africa when actually might happen centuries before.

    “On His First Voyage to America, 1492”

    ‘They firmly believed that I, with my ships and men, came from heaven, and with this idea I have been received everywhere, since they lost fear of me. They are, however, far from being ignorant.

    This part stood out to me because it gives me the feeling of someone sub-estimating other’s capacity of perception. Since It either mentions fear or something imaginary. Being received somewhere because of an imaginary idea and use that for own purposes might not be my favorite part of this text. It also makes me wonder at what point Christopher Colombus decided to threw this heaven idea of him and decided to become the person who would kill if he does not get what he came to get.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very thoughtful response on multiple counts. Yes, enslavement extended to numerous groups at this time. Your point about Columbus taking it upon himself to think what the Natives thought of him is very intriguing as well.

  8. Ulises

    “Lost History of the Taino People”
    In the documentary, something that I found disturbing was that some of the Taino parents killed their children and then killed themselves, because they preferred to end their suffering and that it was a better choice than to continue living in that inhuman way controlled by the Spanish. I find it unpleasant that the Spanish have come to enslave, torture, and kill anyone who was against their religion. Additionally exploit them to get natural resources and colonize new lands. But it also seems very disturbing to me that parents have made the decision not only to end their lives but also to end their children’s lives, since they were not the ones who made the decision. Which it reminds me when I lived in Venezuela like 4 years ago, I heard of a case where a mother committed suicide due to the crisis that is currently being experienced in the country by the government. This case was similar to the one in the documentary, because people prefer to end their lives rather than continue living in a supremacy in which you will end up being unhappy because of the lack of freedom, but at least this mother did not make choices for her kids.

    “Destruction of the Indies”
    In the reading, something that I found interesting and at the same time disturbing was the number of Tainos who were brutally murdered. Showing how the arrival of the Spanish completely ruined millions of lives, leaving different cities without population, as it says in the text “The island of Cuba is almost as long as from Valladolid to Rome; today it is almost devoid of population.” This shows that the number of lives that were taken in this colonization in “search of gold” is not exaggerated. Which leads me to wonder how much blood was shed until the day the colonization finally ended.

    • Mark Noonan

      You offer lots of insightful points in your post Ulises. Indeed the “search for gold” and the Northwest passage to the East were very real and continued in the 1700s. It would be interesting to investigate the history of the indigenous peoples of Venezuela.

  9. Christin

    In the documentary, “Lost history of the Tiano people”, students were able to get a better insight of what a Tianos life consisted of. I found many points interesting, including the fact that Tianos believed that Tianos and non-Tianos were made in two seperate caves. Caves were significant to Tianos and it is believed that that caves contain the largest diversity of Tianos objects. In addition, what I found disturbing was the turning point in the relationship between Spaniards and the Tianos. Initially, their relationship was a good one and they even went as far as trading goods. However, eventually they began to take advantage of the Tianos and took them away from their families. Spaniards overworked Tianos in gold mines and eventually viewed Tianos as servants/ people of use. This is when Christopher Columbus proposed the idea of Tianos being ensalved. Although Queen Elizabeth denied this idea, in 1503, she came to the compromise that those (Tianos) who did not accept christianity as a religion, would/should be enslaved. Conflict between the Spaniards and Tianos, along with disease introduced by the Spaniards, resulted in a dramatic decrease of the Tiano population. Tianos began living in a world that was unrecognizable which pushed the Tianos people to take immoral actions, such as killing their own children and then committing suicide.

    In the reading regarding Jacob Steendam, I found it interesting how he described New York, which was known as “New Netherland”. Jacob wrote pamphlets about the benefits of living in the new world for those back home who had yet to experience it. I found it ironic how he stated, “The purity of the air.” Nowadays, the air quality in New York is far from pure and is now known as one of the most polluted cities in the nation, damaging the air quality severely. It’s ironic how the “new world” everyone was once chasing is becoming a world that people want to escape.

    In j

    • Mark Noonan

      Very interesting points Christin. I really like your comment about the original “pure” air of New York and how climate change, pollution, (and the pandemic) have renewed humans desire to seek out the last few remaining earthly paradises.

  10. Paulina Vega

    The documentary that stood out to me was “New York: Before The City”. In the documentary the speaker stated “I started reading about the history and the geography in New York City. I read that New York City was the first mega city, a city of 10 million people or more, in 1950. I started seeing paintings like this. For those of you who are from New York, this is 125th street under the west side highway.” In this quote it explains to the audience how much society has changed and developed over time because things don’t look the same as they used to a long time ago. Enovations have been made for people to catch up with and to help make their lives easier. This documentary stood out to me because it showed me how much things have changed and will continue to change.
    The reading that stood out to me was “Letter of Christopher Columbus On His First Voyage to America 1492“. In the reading it states “It has many ports along the seacoast excelling any in Christendom — and many fine, large, flowing rivers. The land there is elevated, with many mountains and peaks incomparably higher than in the centre isle. They are most beautiful, of a thousand varied forms, accessible, and full of trees of endless varieties, so high that they seem to touch the sky, and I have been told that they never lose their foliage.” This quote is showing what Columbus saw when he was exploring and all the new things he was viewing. Everything seems very new to him because it was nothing he had seen before.

    • Mark Noonan

      Insightful points Paulina. Your line about how “This documentary … showed me how much things have changed and will continue to change.” is an important theme for this class. At the same time, I hope students will consider what we can also learn from the past.

  11. haroodg

    On His First Voyage to America, 1492
    My perspective of Christopher Columbus’ character has changed since I read the letter written by him. I have always believed Christopher Columbus to be a man that was set on his goal of finding a new way to India. His devotion to the King and Queen of Spain seemed very genuine, therefore, displaying his loyalty to them. When his voyages lead to the discovery of the Americas I believe his initial encounters were very fierce and barbaric. Columbus’s letter to his highnesses was filled with such praise and interest in the island of Hispanola. The accounts that he has written showed great appreciation of the beauty of the island with its many treasures. The natives of the island were also so well received by Colombus noting that “They never refuse anything that is asked for. They even offer it themselves, and show so much love that they would give their very hearts.” When Colombus would see his fellow crewmates trading broken glass and bowls for huge amounts of gold he would feel a sense of exploitation of the kindness of the Taino people. Recognizing the knowledge these people had with their expertise of the land gave a great sense of appreciation in the letter changing my opinion of Colombus. I believe that the honest goal of Columbus was not to enslave the people but to show their version of “God” and introduce Christianity. Unfortanly history tells a different sad story.

    New York: Before the City” (with Eric Sanderson)
    This TED talk “New York: Before the City” by Eric Sanderson interested me because of the concept of turning back the clock to pre-historic New York. The idea of knowing what came before is an old and fascinating thought to have. Seeing that I am a resident of NYC it was very interesting to see the amount of research that was put in to retell the stories and lives of the ones who once lived. NYC is always referred to as the “concrete jungle” or “Gotham” to characterize its lifelessness and brutality, but I see more than that. I see a rich history built on top of an already prosperous society. It’s hard to learn what comes after that but at least we remember the past through the many great symbols we have today such as Manhatten ( Manahatta). The video provided an in-depth look into the way nature may have looked back then before the first settlers arrived. It was eye-opening to see NYC with such vegetation and “life”.

  12. Terri.Ann

    Like I mentioned in the class introductions I have been traveling back and forth between NYC and Savannah/Atlanta for the last two years. Like many New Yorkers, I am first born/generation American in my family. Both of my parents came to the United States in the late 80’s from the Caribbean. New York has always been a place of various cultures and languages. There’s a difference in connotation when someone asks, ‘where do you live’ vs. ‘where are you from’ to us New Yorkers.’ The question ‘where are you from’ typically means what culture/place you resonate with because pretty much everyone in NYC (especially people of color) are from somewhere else other than NYC. I never felt that much American because much of my “history” in the United States starts with me born in the 90’s.

    However, moving down south for a new chapter – nobody asked me “where are you from?” and if they did I knew better than to say “Dominica and St.Kitts.” My yankee Brooklyn accent always give me away. Now speaking less and less about my parents’ home- I find myself raving about how amazing NYC is just like Jacob Steedman did in his poem ‘In Praise of New Netherland.’ I cannot express how disappointed I am in the culture and way of life in the South- especially in Atlanta. A lot of my NY friends ask me if they should uproot and move down here, and I have a long ‘unbiased’ list of cautions for them . Steedman’s travels allowed him like myself, to make a lot of comparisons between NY and anywhere else. You instantly hear his bemoaning and sadness for anyone who has not had the grand opportunity to experience or live in NY- “you poor, who know not how your living to obtain.” Between the political views, policies, standard of life, I mean pretty much everything (please don’t get me started on the lack of sidewalks in Atlanta and how stupid it is because how can a city grow if people can’t walk to and from)- I genuinely feel sorry for those who haven’t even left Georgia for a vacation much less only know Georgia because their family roots are tied deep to the South. When people ask me questions about NY, I learned to be careful how I speak because I don’t want to hurt their love for their home because I feel so strongly about mine.

    It’s funny though because like I stated earlier, I didn’t feel that much American in NYC because it was evident that my people originated elsewhere. The TedTalk “New York: Before the City” made me appreciate its history and really was a learning lesson for me. I laugh when southerners find out I have never visited The Empire State building, but they themselves visit every time they stay in Times Square. I tell them “trust me- most New Yorkers haven’t and don’t ask me about the NYE ball drop either.” It’s called the concrete jungle, but NY still has a very big ecosystem. It made me appreciate growth in technology watching how Manhattan has changed from palm trees to skyscrapers but at the same time it was sobering thinking about America’s history with colonization and slavery. This land was once occupied by someone else and for this growth to have happened we all know it wasn’t a utopian effort made by everyone. Just think about the horrors the previous people must have gone through.

    • Mark Noonan

      Thanks for your thoughtful and well-written response, Terri-Ann. You do a fine job “getting” our first New York poet, Jacob Steendam, and connecting his poem to your own experiences as a newcomer and proud denizen of the Big Apple. Very astute post.

  13. Chelsea Hernandez

    The documentary “Lost History: Rediscovering the Taino People” I found it interesting the different important information that was brought up. It helps one understand what was going on during those times and how different cultures and how one can learn from one another. One specific piece of information that I found interesting was “right up to the time of Columbus is that they were offered underwater”. I realized to them they would preserve what they felt was an important object. But I also found it disturbing that they would kill their kids and afterwards kill themselves. Their actions could have consequences along the way and they would be very harsh.
    The reading “A Short Account Of The Destruction Of The Indies” was also very interesting. But I also felt disturbed reading “Christians have slain and destroyed so many and such infinite numbers of souls”. The goal they had was to get the gold from the Indies and have it all for themselves. It seems like they didn’t have any care for anyone else but themselves they murdered Taion people in order to reach their goal. They were very selfish and violent towards the Taion people.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very good reading of the dark side of Spanish colonization post-Columbus. Keep an eye on this topic for next week’s readings as we explore the Pilgrims in New England.

  14. Mark Noonan

    Very interesting commentary Harood. You do a fine job pointing to what did make Columbus a truly impressive individual . While (rightfully or wrongly), he may be blamed for the Spanish atrocities that followed his “discovery,” he was a man of science, enormous courage, and yes FAITH. His name Christopher even means the “bearer of Christ” which he took very seriously. An interesting first essay would be to examine what makes Columbus unusual as an enlightened writer and man of science.

  15. Jasmine Perrin

    In the reading, “Destruction of the Indies”, the line that stood out the most was, “ This subject was not able to contain himself from supplicating with Your Majesty, most importantly, that Your Majesty not concede such license nor allow those terrible things that the tyrants did invent, pursue, and have committed against those peaceable, humble, meek Indian people’s, who offend no person…” because it’s a first person perspective of how the Americans knowingly and wrongfully conquered the indies. The narrator doesn’t give an explicit description of what the natives had to go through but we know based off of his account that they were treated poorly in their own habitats.

    Additionally, in Christopher Colombus’s letter, “On His First Voyage to America, 1492”, Colombus says, ““ Directly I reached the Indies in the first isle I discovered, I took by force some of the natives, that from them we might gain some information of what there was in these parts; and so it was that we immediately understood each other, either by words or signs. They are still with me and still believe that I come from heaven.” Colombus openly and unremorsefully explains how he got to America and corrupted all life there which is disturbing because the way he says it it’s like something that was fun for him when in all reality that was the worst experience for the people already living there because he used force and manipulation to get what he wanted.

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