Houghton Mifflin Social Studies
Across the Centuries

Understanding Primary Sources:
Christopher Columbus's Journal

Objective: Students learn about Columbus's first expedition using the notes Columbus recorded in his ship's log.

What You Need:

Suggested Time:
3 hours over 3 days

Building Background:
Ask students what they know about Christopher Columbus. List their responses on the board and use them to help you review the life of the Admiral of the Spanish fleet. Begin by discussing his birth in Genoa in 1451. Explain that as a young man Columbus worked as a sailor on a Genoese trading vessels. At the age of 25, he found himself at Sagres, Portugal, where he studied navigation using the most current European maps and technology. At Sagres, Columbus also theorized about sailing west to reach China, but could not find a western European ruler to sponsor the expedition. Finally, Spain agreed to fund his exploration and, in the fall of 1492, Columbus set sail for Asia. Columbus left extensive notes about this first expedition. Tell students that they will read excerpts from the log of Columbus's first voyage. This log will help them to understand more about Christopher Columbus's goals and his relations with the crew.

What To Do:

1. Have students visit their local library or use the Internet to find information on Columbus. Students can use these Internet sites to begin their research:

The Columbus Navigation Homepage
This site examines the personal history of Christopher Columbus. It also presents various views debating the actual location of his first landfall in the Americas.

1492: An Ongoing Voyage
This online exhibit provides valuable and comprehensive information about the world of 1492 before, during, and after Columbus's expedition.

2. Explain to the class that the log of Columbus's first voyage is a primary source and it provides valuable facts about the journey. The log also contains evidence about the type of relations Christopher Columbus had with the crew of the expedition. Ask volunteers to discuss what the relations might be like, based on what they already know from their research on Columbus.

3. Print and distribute the Columbus's First Voyage worksheet. Divide the class into four groups. Ask each group to review the excerpt from Christopher Columbus's log and answer the questions. Have each group discuss its answers and impressions of Columbus.

4. Then have students look in the log for information on the relationship between Columbus and his crew. The log entries written by Columbus begin on August 3, 1492 and end March 15, 1493. Divide this period of time into four smaller periods and assign one to each group. Have the groups review their assigned portions of the log and take notes about the events and Columbus's thoughts about his crew during that period.

5. Have each group write an essay that describes the relations between Columbus and the crew during the groups' specific portion of the voyage. Have students quote Columbus's statement written in the log to support their opinions. Make sure that each essay contains a summary of the events of the period in addition to the groups' opinions.

Ask a volunteer from each group to present the group's essay and explain what evidence they found in Columbus's notes to support the arguments made.


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