America’s Origin Stories and Myths

Dr. Brian Regal joins us to discuss some of the stories and myths about who “discovered” America, and what the continued popularity of those myths tell us about American culture. From Irish saints to marauding Vikings to Chinese admirals to African explorers, people from almost every culture on earth have been credited with discovering America. Listen as he explains all! Episode 542.

Buzzkill Bookshelf

Brian Regal, The Battle over America’s Origin Story: Legends, Amateurs, and Professional Historiographers 

This book examines the legends of who ‘really’ discovered America. It argues that histories of America’s origins were always based less on empirical evidence and more on social, political, and cultural wish fulfillment. Influenced by a complex interplay of Nativist hatred of immigrants and Aboriginal people, as well as distrust of academic scholarship, these legends ebbed and flowed with changing conditions in wider American society. 

The book focuses on the actions of a collection of quirky, obsessed amateur investigators who spent their lives trying to prove their various theories by promoting Welsh princes, Vikings, Chinese admirals, Neo-lithic Europeans, African explorers, and others who they say arrived centuries before Columbus. These myths acted as mitigating agencies for those who embraced them.

Along with recent scholarship, this book makes extensive use of archival materials―some of which have never been employed before. It covers the period from the sixteenth century to the present. It brings together separate historiographic ideas to create a unified history rather than focusing on one particular legend as most books on the subject do. It shows how questions of who discovered America helped create the field of historical scholarship in this country. This book does not attempt to prove who discovered America, rather it tells the story of those who think they did.

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