Posts Tagged ‘South America’

Magellan Discovers the Straits

I guess if you are the first to do something or see something, you get the right to name whatever it was that you did or saw. Ferdinand Magellan had a lot of firsts in his 41 years of life. He was the first person to circumnavigate the world and the first European to cross the Pacific Ocean. Ferdinand was also the first to sail through the strait that would bear his name, but, to his credit, on his voyages he did not name the things he discovered after himself. For example, the Strait of Magellan was originally called the “Strait of Saints.” The archipelago at the southernmost tip of South America he named Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) instead of something silly like “Magellan Land.” And, after coming through the strait to the ocean, he called it the Pacific (Peaceful) instead of the Ocean of Magellan or some other self-serving title. In tribute to a man who chose not to honor himself, two galaxies, two craters of the moon, one crater of Mars and a NASA spacecraft have been named in honor of Magellan.

The infographic below tells you a little about Magellan and his discoveries.


In 1988, I passed through the Strait of Magellan aboard a U.S. Navy ship called The Sampson. It was an interesting trip. The weather seemed to change every 30 minutes or so. One minute the sun would be shining and the next it would be snowing. Here are a few photos I took while cruising through the Strait:

Heading into the Strait of Magellan

Aboard the USS Sampson Heading into the Strait of Magellan [Photo by Tom Mason]

Opening of the Strait of Magellan

Entering the Strait of Magellan [Photo by Tom Mason]

Snow-Capped Mountains in the Strait

Snow-Capped Mountains in the Strait of Magellan [Photo by Tom Mason]

Sunken Ship in the Strait

One of Several Sunken Ships Seen in the Strait [Photo by Tom Mason]


Learn more about Ferdinand Magellan and his accomplishments by visiting eLibrary!

CultureGrams Regional Quiz: South America

South America Quiz

  1. Which South American country contains the world’s largest tropical rainforest?
  2. Brazil

  3. Which country’s people have traditionally eaten more beef per capita than any other country?
  4. Bolivia

  5. How many nations in South America do not list Spanish as an official language?
  6. Two: Brazil and French Guiana
    Three: Suriname, Uruguay, and Paraguy
    Four: Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, and French Guiana

  7. Which South American country has two capitals?
  8. Chile

  9. Which country’s population is concentrated along South America’s Atlantic coast?
  10. Suriname

  11. What is the most ethnically homogeneous country in South America?
  12. Uruguay

  13. Charles Darwin developed his theories of evolution based on observations in which country?
  14. Bolivia

  15. Which two countries share the world’s highest navigable body of water, Lake Titicaca?
  16. Ecuador and Chile
    Colombia and Venezuela
    Peru and Bolivia

  17. Around half of Guyana’s population is made up of descendants of emigrants from which country?
  18. Ghana

  19. The president of which country is currently facing impeachment?
  20. Venezuela

Amerigo Vespucci–All American

Amerigo Vespucci Research Topic

Amerigo Vespucci Research Topic via ProQuest’s eLibrary

Columbus could not have been more wrong. But then again, it was 1492 and he did not have his GPS when he landed in the Americas, which were then not known as the Americas. After he finished vacationing in the Bahamas, convinced all the time that he was near Japan or China, another chap from Italy named Amerigo Vespucci decided to try his luck sailing to the West to find the East. He claims to have made four voyages, but two of his trips are disputed by scholars who believe that his letters claiming such voyages are fakes (Vespucci was ever the self-promoter). What is known is that he did complete two voyages, the first (or maybe second?) around 1499-1500, being for Spain where he discovered the mouth of the Amazon River.

His second voyage in 1501-1502 (or third, if you believe his letters), this time for Portugal, was more important. He landed in present-day Brazil and sailed all along the east coast of South America. The voyage was more significant because it was during this trip Vespucci came to realize that this was not Asia as Columbus believed but was a new continent which Amerigo called the “New World.” Vespucci published several letters in which he described the culture of the indigenous people, describing their religion and diet, but what made these letters popular was his focus on their sexual, marriage, and childbirth practices. These letters were distributed across Europe and naturally outsold Columbus‘ boring diaries (then, as now, sex sells).

Martin Waldseemuller

Martin Waldseemuller [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Gerardus Mercator

Gerardus Mercator [Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]










The insult to Columbus continued. Vespucci’s claim of a “New World” may not have been as bold as he alleged. Several years earlier, in 1498, Columbus had sailed past the mouth of the Orinoco River and reasoned that this huge outwash of fresh water could come only from a landmass of continental proportions. It appears that Vespucci got the credit for areas that most would agree were first discovered by Christopher Columbus.

1507 Martin Waldseemuller Map

1507 Martin Waldseemuller Map [Public Domain via Library of Congress]

In 1507, German clergyman-cartographer Martin Waldseemuller created a map, the Universalis Cosmographia, in which he labeled Brazil and rest of the coastline “America” in honor of Amerigo (America being the feminine, Latinized version of Amerigo). In 1538, another map-maker, Gerardus Mercator, working from maps created earlier by Waldseemuller, gave the name “America” to both the South and North continents. The name stuck. So, thanks to Vespucci, Waldseemuller and Mercator, some 350 million of us living in the United States refer to ourselves as Americans. It does make one wonder what we would be calling ourselves had Waldseemuller not used the name “America” on his 1507 map…

March 9th is the birthday of Amerigo Vespucci, so this would be a good time to brush up on our early “American” history using the many resources available in eLibrary.

American History (Magazine)

Cartography (Research Topic)

Central America (Research Topic)

Columbian Exchange (Research Topic)

Explorers of North America (Research Topic)

History of the World (Anthology)

Navigation (Research Topic)