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Academics Are Standing History Curricula, Like Spanish Eggs, on End


SINCE Christopher Columbus didn't discover Brazil (Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral did in 1500, taking this part of the Americas in the name of the Portuguese crown), his main contribution here is a wonderful expression in the Portuguese language.

Ovo de Colombo refers to a debate that supposedly took place at the Spanish court.

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The question that baffled all was how to make an egg stand on end. The Genoese explorer is said to have simply flattened the eggshell a bit on one end, easily standing it up.

So for longer than anyone knows, Brazilians have used the expression to describe an ingenious but obvious solution to a problem.

The discovery of the Americas by Columbus and the Portuguese, according to Brazilian historians, turned out to be more a can of worms than an ovo de Colombo.

These explorations marked the beginning of the westward expansion of Europe, "a movement of colonization and conquest, and what this caused in Latin America ... the indigenous question, the extermination of the Indians, and the way European culture was superimposed on native culture, [and] what happened to ethnic minorities, to the Jews, the blacks, and the poor who came to live here," says Ilana Blaj, a professor of Brazilian colonial history at the University of Sao Paulo (USP).

Next August hundreds of academics from different countries and disciplines will examine this period of colonization. The USP-sponsored congress hopes to broaden Brazilian school curricula to include pre-Columbian history.

Such reexamination of the past, says Ms. Blaj, will help Brazil find its future.

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