Elizabeth Horodowich, Professor of History at New Mexico State University will explore how for hundreds of years after the Columbian voyages, Europeans believed Asia and America occupied the same continent. European cartographers and cosmographers understood the lands that are today the American Southwest and New Mexico to be near — or even overlapping with — China and India.
Seemingly endless maps, narrative accounts, and images illustrate this phenomenon. Exploring these sources to better understand how and why early modern Europeans connected these two worlds allows us to see how ideas about New Mexico were at the heart of the very earliest European conceptions of globalization, and will demonstrate how this misconception, America overlapping Asia, was logical for Early Modern Europeans to accept. Horodowich will give a free talk entitled “When Mexico was China on Zoom for the Corrales History Society Speaker Series Feb. 22 on Zoom.
What: “When New Mexico was China,” presented by Elizabeth Horodowich, professor of history at New Mexico State University
When: Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022 at 2 p.m.
Where: On Zoom, info on how to log in will be sent closer to Feb. 20 and will be posted on www.CorralesHistory.org
Horodowich answered some questions for the Observer.
What led to your interest in this research?
When I was working on my previous book, “The Venetian Discovery of America” that considered all of the different ways that Venetian printers presented the discovery of the New World, I noticed, and collected, a lot of examples of times when Venetians were “confused” about the lands in the Western Atlantic, for instance when they thought that Jamaica might be Java. They seemed funny, and curious, so I kept a list of them, and then eventually discovered that my art historian colleague Alexander Nagel, at NYU, had been keeping a similar list of art historical examples. We put our lists together and started writing.
Were you surprised at the findings that early folks thought New Mexico was near China?
Yes and no. What I show in my research is that while of course we today as 21st century people find this surprising, if we pay attention to what 16th century people knew and read, and really listen to it, it makes a lot of sense. Sixteenth-century people were looking for the riches of Southeast Asia. They were looking for the Spice Islands, for instance, in a warm climate, as medieval travelers had described them. That is exactly what Columbus landed on; islands in a warm climate, so based on what people knew about the islands of Southeast Asia from reading Marco Polo, it would have made perfect sense to think that the lands of the Western Atlantic were near China.
That whole Columbus discovered America thing, how did that fit the European bias?
Hmm. I’m not really sure how to answer this question, because what I’m showing here is kind of the opposite of this idea. We today tend to say: “Columbus discovered America,” but not many people would have said anything like that at the time. America didn’t exist as a concept that is anything like what we know it to be today, for a long time after Columbus. We learn in school that Columbus discovered America in 1492, but really, no part of this statement is true. There was no single individual who did this, because understanding the shape and expanse of America took the explorations of many, many Europeans. No one “discovered” anything because people had already been living in the lands to the west of the Atlantic since the last ice age. There was no “America” in 1492, and this wouldn’t be named for at least 50 years, and people didn’t really understand the confines of the American continent clearly and fully until even 1800. So, no part of this statement is accurate!
How should that be really taught so that it is accurate?
It would be much more accurate, and less anachronistic, to say that Columbus traveled to lands in the western Atlantic, where very few people had traveled before, and those who had did not have their voyages captured in print. For quite some time, many Europeans were convinced that he was in or near Asia and continued to understand the lands that we today call The Americas as Asia, as in or near Asia, even for over a hundred years.