In 2013 we commemorate the day in 1492 when Italian navigator Christopher Columbus, funded by Queen Isabella of Spain, reached the new world.

Though it was more than 500 years ago, he was not the first explorer to reach the Americas. Many convincing claims have been made for previous expeditions including a Norse expedition led by Leif Ericson in the 11th century and European fishers who sailed far west in search of the Atlantic’s enormous cod reserves.

The difference is that Columbus’s voyages led to the first lasting European contact with the Americas, something that was inevitable. Columbus had the courage and skill to cross the shoreless sea where he opened a continent to the future, with consequences both good and bad. Worlds met, cultures clashed — and melded — in that inescapable day when someone, a man named Columbus, sailed to the shores of a new world.