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Written by Edith Emma Mason, a former colleague in the history department at the University of London’s Birkbeck College, it briefly recapped the life work of an eighty-nine-year-old woman who had died on December 21, 2005. Ruddock was a respected economic historian who had made what were widely believed to be breakthrough finds about the voyages of discovery to the New World in the late fifteenth century by the Venetian known to the English-speaking world as John Cabot. Mason noted how Ruddock had produced “a draft of a book about Cabot, but destroyed it because it did not meet her exacting standards.

But the idea of “lost” extends well beyond the Ruddock materials, as does the challenge of recovery. For one thing, we know far too little about the Indigenous perspective on the arrival of Europeans like Columbus and Cabot. When reading surviving European materials we must employ a critical eye, particularly in deciding what if anything written about the people of the New World is factually trustworthy. More to the purpose of this particular book, anyone who has tried to write about early exploration by going beyond secondary sources well knows how thin on the ground that surviving evidence actually is, how little of it exists to buttress the often-presumptuous assertions about the past that clutter standard histories.

Other Portuguese voyages, real and alleged, productive and otherwise, followed. Goncalo Fernandes de Tavira made a 1462 voyage to the northwest of Madeira on which he was said to have seen land, but there was nothing in that direction other than the known Azores, unless he had carried on all the way to northeastern North America. That same year, João Vogado went looking for two imaginary islands, Capraria and Lovo; he returned without any sightings. Although the Portuguese had not given up on finding the next volcanic peak in a trackless sea when Columbus arrived in Madeira, the profitable discoveries had diminished seriously, and the time had come to consolidate their holdings and defend their enormous maritime territory.

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