Exploring in the Footsteps of Columbus: Letters Back Home
This is an introductory activity for Gates-Madsen's Spanish 460 Seminar about The Natural World in Latin American Literature (to be taught Spring 2011). It's designed to help students begin to think about how their perception of and attitudes toward the natural world might be different from those of 16th Century Spanish explorers. Students will write a letter back home describing a "pristine" wilderness scene of a Caribbean beach. They will compare their descriptions to Columbus's diary chronicling his first impressions of Hispaniola, paying attention to: 1. what is seen (and not seen) 2. the filter/frame of reference used to describe the landscape 3. the rhetoric of the letters.
- reflecting upon their own framework of seeing the natural world (both what and how they see (or don't see))
- analyzing Columbus's frame of reference (both what and how he saw (or didn't see))
- describing a landscape in Spanish
- generate a list of parallel assumptions about the natural world, the "New World," and the relationship between humans and nature
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
Day 1: Pretend you are traveling to the Caribbean and have arrived at the location in the picture [students will view a picture of a remote Caribbean beach]. Describe what you see in a letter back home to someone who has never traveled outside of the Midwest.
Extension: 1 page; upload to the course website
Day 2: Read excerpts of Columbus's diary where he describes his first perception of the "New World." Read everybody else's letters. Before class, write a 1-page text addressing the following questions:
- what elements of the natural world are included in both descriptions?
- what frame of reference / context is used in both texts in order to describe this new place?
- what type of language is used in both descriptions?
- what appears to be the writer's attitude toward the landscape?
- what seems to be the writer's intention?
Teaching Notes and Tips
- Communication (how well can the students express themselves in Spanish?)
- Analysis (how deeply do the students enter into the topic? how thorough is their treatment of the subject?)