Selling the Indies: Columbus and the Economy of the Marvelous

in New World Gold

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226856186
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226856193 | DOI:
Selling the Indies: Columbus and the Economy of the Marvelous

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter focuses on the difficulties encountered by Christopher Columbus in providing the reliable sources of gold that he had promised to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, his royal sponsors. Columbus describes only projected earnings and uses symbols to represent wealth and monetary value, viewing the Indies as a golden land given by God to the Spanish monarchs and using grace as a guarantee of value and a form of credit. The theme of the providential donation, which recurs in early New World historiography and was at the core of the imperial imagination, raises questions about how to represent the value of what is given and establishes a symbolic function in which the worth of gold is created through New World exotica. The practice of gift exchange, an essential relational mode used in both medieval and early modern Europe, is linked to Columbus's writings via generosity, grace, and obligation. Once they acquired a vast empire in America, Castilians began to regard themselves as a chosen people divinely favored with wealth and a global empire.

Keywords: Christopher Columbus; gold; Indies; Spain; Ferdinand; Isabella; wealth; grace; providential donation; New World

Chapter.  15156 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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