Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on early voyages

Doug Hunter expands on my note about his John Cabot/Alwyn Ruddock article (see below):
Thanks for mentioning the Ruddock article, skepticism and all. Once the latest issue of Canada's History is off the newsstand, I will post a longer version of the article on my own website. Most of the additional material involves Ruddock's life story and other research that vanished.

Pre-Columbian exploration history theory as you acknowledge is full of mystery and allegation and plenty of theorizing. Records unfortunately are spotty, with Bristol customs records for example having big holes in them. It's not easy to find evidence of voyage financiers because merchant bankers in London overwhelmingly were Florentines and Genoese, not Englishmen, and records are either missing altogether or squirreled away in a private archive somewhere. The latter seems to be what Ruddock tapped into in Italy when she figured out that Cabot was (quite logically) funded by
Italian bankers. She never identified them, but in reading her early published research and cross-indexing her surviving book outline and notes, I have a pretty good idea of who they were, and the names of the partners in the London operation.

We'll never know for sure until somebody stumbles on the same unindexed private archive that she did. She is to be credited for almost singlehandedly pursuing the integration of the English maritime economy with the European financial system that was in the hands overwhelmingly of the Florentines and Genoese. One of the elements in the expanded story I'll post on my website is the fact that she devoted considerable time every spring and fall to touring the Med and visiting public and private archives in her research as an economic historian.

I've been looking into crypto-history for a little while, mainly as a sociocultural phenom, but also dealing with legitimate discovery history, and am now working on a book about Columbus and Cabot. Some of what Ruddock proposed about Cabot is currently unprovable, and there are things she didn't pursue with him (based on her surviving book outline) that surprised me. A lot of what has been published about Cabot is either wrong or missing significant connections between him and the Columbus enterprise. I've been synthesizing known Cabot documentation with more recent research in Spain on Columbus materials, as well as having an important Spanish letter relating to Cabot retranslated (it was botched badly in the standard translation in a significant way).

The people I've dealt with on Ruddock have emphasized to me what a careful archival researcher she was, and that if she said she had found something, then she had. How far back the discovery timeline ever can be legitimately pushed is an open-ended question. D.B. Quinn argued the Bristol sailors were in Nfld by 1480, but had no hard proof. Ruddock said she had proof, possibly from Spain, that could push that back to before 1470. I have an unpublished translation of a paper by the Icelandic scholar Thorsteinsson (and a letter he wrote Quinn from Quinn's papers in the Library of Congress) which says English mariners were most likely in Nfld by about 1425, almost certainly by 1450. But Thorsteinsson has never been published in English translation, and he was also operating on a lot of circumstantial evidence. Much pre-Columbian voyage theory is culturally relative. Portuguese (and even Spanish) scholars are far more accepting of what we would consider incomplete evidence of pre- Columbian voyages to Newfoundland, for example.

If you get a chance, please check out my new blog, Age of Discovery News.
It's definitely a labour of love.
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