The first-place winners of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) history month essay contest were announced earlier this year.
This year’s topics were, “Celebrating a Century: America’s National Parks” for grades 5-8 and “Technology’s Impact on the Voyage of Christopher Columbus” for grades 9-12.
Below is the essay written by 11th-grader Shad JamesTracy
Technology’s Impact on the Voyage of Christopher Columbus
By Shad James Tracy
Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School
In the year 1492, Christopher Columbus made his historic voyage to the Americas, effectively opening up the continent for European colonization. However, this trip was no small feat. Columbus relied on countless different inventions and techniques such as the celestial navigation and the magnetic compass to get him where he needed to go. These methods were accurate for the time, but much more sophisticated technology exists today. If Columbus had only some of the technology we use today, his journey may have been much easier.
Christopher Columbus was born in 1451 in the Republic of Genoa, Italy. Ever since he was a child, Columbus was involved in oceanic activities including participating in trading voyages. During one such voyage, he nearly lost his life to French privateers who attacked the fleet he was sailing with. He learned of the Atlantic currents flowing east to west from the Canary Islands in several expeditions he partook in. Trade routes through the Middle East to reach China and India proved difficult, due to them being dominated by Muslims. Columbus believed that a route across the Atlantic would prove much more efficient to reach the East. He incorrectly estimated that the distance between the Canary Islands and Japan was about 2,300 miles, when it’s actually closer to 12,200 miles. It’s not specified what tools Columbus used to reach this conclusion, but this proves that some methods of the time simply weren’t accurate. If explorers had access to such things as satellite imagery or a GPS, the task of calculating distance wouldn’t be as inaccurate. In addition to measuring distance, modern forms of directions would have also been helpful for Columbus’ journey.
The Santa Maria, Columbus’ main ship on his 1492 voyage to the Americas, was the largest of the three ships being manned for the voyage. All three ships were powered by large sails, and their speed was almost entirely dependent upon the wind. The Santa Maria travelled approximately 90 to 100 nautical miles a day, making their rates of travel laughable by today’s standards. Even the fastest of the ships, the Pinta, only travelled at a top speed of 8 knots. These speeds allowed the explorer to reach his destination in about 36 days. With a modern ship and motor, Columbus’ time on the water would have been greatly expedited. In my opinion, the ship that would have suited Columbus’ journey the best would be a modern-day aircraft carrier. Powered by nuclear energy, these massive ships only run out of fuel once every 50 years. This would be plenty of time for Columbus to make many journeys around the world. Also, if modern aircraft existed at the time, Columbus’ crew could have used the jets on the carrier to scout out land and find safe places to anchor the ships. Most modern-day aircraft carriers also use sonar technology to scan the ocean floor for changes in elevation and possible dangers to the ship, making them potentially useful to the whole crew aboard the expedition.
One of the most popular ways to preserve food over long periods of time in the 15th Century was to simply cover it in salt. This method has been used for millennia, and works reasonably well. However, modern-day technology offers an alternative to this outdated method of preservation: the refrigerator. Columbus most likely would have used refrigerators and freezers extensively, storing the crew’s food in them for months at a time.
Due to Columbus exploring the land, he reported back to Spain several times to report to the royal court about what he had witnessed. They relied fully on what Columbus had to say, with no real visual evidence to back it up besides the few things he had brought back. A camera phone may have been beneficial to Columbus. This would have allowed him to take pictures of his findings, such as new animals and plants. It would have also allowed for video proof of his encounters with natives. And most importantly, it would have opened up a more convenient way for Columbus to contact Spain’s leaders.
One of the biggest problems facing ships crews in the past was that of scurvy. Scurvy is a state of dietary deficiency of vitamin C, causing exhaustion, ulceration of the gums, and sometimes loss of teeth. With the addition of modern vitamins and medicine on Columbus’ voyage, many of the crew members could have recovered from illnesses such as scurvy much faster than normal. In addition to this, modern-day hygienic habits such as brushing teeth, taking daily showers, and washing their hands may have had a positive impact on the crew’s lives.
Columbus’ historic voyage to the New World was and continues to be extremely impressive. His skillful use of tools and techniques allowed him to make several safe and successful voyages to and from the Americas. However, if he had access to just some of today’s modern technology, navigation would have been more accurate, his travel time would be cut in half, and the crew’s health would have improved significantly.