The Columbian Exchange: Historical Ramifications on a Global Scale

Drogheda445

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March 15th marks the return of Christopher Columbus and his fleet to Barcelona in 1493, after his first voyage across the "Ocean Sea" to what he considered to be East Asia, but which would turn out to be an entirely new landmass hitherto unknown to Europeans. Concrete archaeological evidence has of course proven that a Norse presence in what is now Newfoundland predated Columbus' expedition by about 500 years, meaning that Columbus was not the first European to sight the Americas. Nevertheless, unlike the Vinland episode, Columbus' discovery led to a permanent European presence in the Americas, the subsequent growth of the Spanish Empire, the downfall of the Mesoamerican and Inca civilisations, and indeed the eventual domination of European culture over that of the Native Americans which has prevailed to this day (going hand in hand, of course, with the catastrophic decline in their population, through warfare, slavery, and especially disease). Within just a few decades of this relatively minor discovery, cultures that had endured for millennia would be wiped out and the political face of the continent utterly changed.

The political effects of course are well known, but the ecological, biological, social and economic ramifications of the discovery would in time transform the human world as the subsequent Columbian exchange took place between both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The most immediate effect of the Columbian Exchange has already been pointed out, namely the spread of disease. Since the divergence of human populations tens of thousands of years ago the state of our immune systems also diverged, especially with the advent of the domestication of animals. The Afro-Eurasian landmass was home to a multitude of animal species that were ripe for domestication, being abundant sources of food as well as beasts of burden. Through positive feedback, agriculture began to accelerate, and subsequently the advent of cities. The transmission of animal diseases to humans was made more likely by their teeming presence in urban centres, and thus from cows came measles, smallpox, and tuberculosis, whooping cough and influenza from pigs, and of course the Black Death from flea-carrying rats. By contrast, the Americas were home to comparatively few potentially-domesticated animals; the only significant working animal being the llama (and not a particularly efficient one at that), and thus aside from syphillis, disease transmission went almost entirely one-way.

Thus, upon arriving, pathogens carried by Europeans would wreak havoc on a Native population entirely unprepared biologically for this sudden onslaught. Add into the mixture the wars accompanying the Spanish arrival (and the propagation of disease that came with that) and huge swathes of the native population simply perished (some directly because of the epidemics, whereas others died from starvation due to the diseases having decimated the farming population). Statistically, despite what historical narratives of the conquest have traditionally assumed, a far higher percentage of the Native population succumbed to European diseases than died at the hands of the conquistadors. The effects of syphillis on Europe were fairly muted by comparison, but it is entirely possible that the effects of the disease played a role in the infertility of royal dynasties and thus the numerous dynastic disputes which shaped Early Modern European politics. The Columbian exchange, therefore, brought to an end thousands of years of mutual biological immunity in a cataclysmic fashion.

The world's biodiversity was also transformed by the exchange, as animals and plants hitherto separate were suddenly introduced to either side of the Ocean. In turns of animals, previously mention domesticated European animals were brought over, some of whom would have a profound impact on both European and Native American populations. The horse for instance, whose native breeds had gone extinct in America thousands of years beforehand, were suddenly reintroduced, and revolutionised the Indian way of life. This was especially true in North America, where Plains Indian tribes suddenly had far easier means to capture and kill buffalo, moving them away from agricultural lifestyles in favour of hunting. The arrival of farm animals revolutionised agriculture, and famines were relatively rare in the Americas as the abundant land for grazing meant a massive agricultural surplus; the arrival of oxen also made transportation easier.

Unlike animals which mostly transformed the Americas, plants would have a major impact on European diets over the course of next few centuries. Crops such as tomatoes, potatoes, chilli peppers, sweet potatoes, and maize led to a population explosion in Europe as well as Africa and Asia, and/or changed the status of agriculture. Soils which had previously been poor for Old World crops now grew huge amounts of imported New World crops. These plants also remade European, African and Asian diets; tomatoes were unknown in Italy until the 16th century, and quickly became essential in staple Italian dishes; Indian cuisine benefited greatly from the arrival of chillis; many Asian cultures would soon rely on the sweet potato, and the Africans on cavassa. Chocolate, now emblematic of many European countries such as Switzerland and Belgium, was made possible by the discovery of cocoa beans in the New World. Tobacco, of course, became massively popular throughout the New World, so much so that it was condemned as a deadly vice among Protestant reformers, and was banned in the Ottoman Empire as early as 1633, although it remained in widespread use throughout the Middle East.

In terms of Ireland, the popularity of the potato crop in this country is already well known, but was only made possible after their discovery in the Americas. It soon became widely planted in Europe, and helped fuel the population explosion in Ireland during the Early Modern Period; between 1800 and 1840 alone, Ireland's population is estimated to have grown from 4 to 8 million people. It was a cheap crop, and a great source of calories and nutrition, and thus it became abundant. Reliance on it in Ireland led to the devastating effects of the potato blight of 1845, and the Great Famine that followed, a pivotal event in Irish history. Thus much of our recent history and the fallout of the famine can be attributed to the effects of the Columbian exchange on European agriculture.

The demographic ramifications of the Columbian exchange made possible many of the unique ethnicities that now inhabit the Americas. The contemporary American population is among the most mixed in the world, especially in Latin America as a result of the sudden influx of Europeans from the 16th century onward. Infamously of course the widespread and hugely profitable agriculture practised in the Americas led to the forced enslavement of millions of Africans who were sent to the New World, and who would themselves gradually mix into the genetic melting pot of the New World and contribute to its diversity. In Latin American societies, whole social structures were based upon a system of racial hierarchy which attempted to delineate groups of different ethnic backgrounds, the most notable being the peninsulares (Iberian born settlers), creoles (long-standing European-Americans), mestizos (those of mixed European and Indian descent) and mulattos (those of mixed European and African descent). It is also worth pointing out that the arrival of New World crops in the Old World and their subsequent benefit to European agriculture led to an explosion of the Eurasian population, the subsequent huge waves of European emigration to the Americas, and indeed to European domination in global politics and the Industrial Revolution.

As far as biological or ecological events are concerned, the Columbian Exchange is certainly a contender for the most significant in mankind's history; two entirely separate ecosystems became homogenised, a whole variety of animals and plants contributed to revolutions in society on both sides of the Atlantic, and the propagation of diseases had a devastating impact on the populations of the New World (far more so it would appear than European atrocities themselves, although they were certainly severe). It represents an aspect of history that is abstract when compared with more obvious actions taken by leaders or prominent individuals, and perhaps highlights how significant a role the environment has played in the overall direction of society in modern times, and how in the case of Ireland (as with many other countries), it has had a profound impact on the political and social world we live in today.

For those interested in the subject, Alfred W. Crosby has been a leading source in this field and has been a pioneer in the study of the effects of the Columbian Exchange, so certainly someone to read up on for a more in-depth study. As regards ecological and biological history more generally, Jared Diamond's works, notably Guns, Germs and Steel are also certainly worth looking at.
 


Truth.ie

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The Americas had not even invented/discovered the wheel before the white man came.

Good op. Lots of info.
 

GDPR

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The Americas had not even invented/discovered the wheel before the white man came.

Good op. Lots of info.
You silly little British Stormfronter

Ive given up on the number of Irish towns you claim an intimate knowledge of - only to run like f*uck when anyone draws you out or challenges you.

Been in Stranocum have you:)

Now you are chattering about white men inventing the wheel.

You are just rubbish.
 

RasherHash

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The Americas had not even invented/discovered the wheel before the white man came.

Good op. Lots of info.
Well I didn't know that...

Fiction: American Indians (the Maya) independently invented the wheel, but it isn’t a real invention because they only used it for toys.

Fact: Many European scientific inventions started out as toys or "curiosities." These include the telescope and the microscope. "We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential," wrote philosopher Eric Hoffer. "Hence the remarkable fact that many inventions had their births as toys."

Narrative: Scholars who use wheeled transportation as a benchmark for measuring civilization rarely take the natural environment into account. Suitable draft animals did not exist in the pre-contact Americas. The two largest animals – bison and llamas – weren’t easily domesticated to pull carts or chariots

Terrain was another factor that discouraged the development of wheeled transportation in the Americas. European new to North America often found their wheeled wagons inappropriate for the land they were trying to cross. Frequently they traded this clumsy transport for American Indian forms of transportation – the canoe, snowshoes and toboggans. Indigenous people throughout the Americas used runners to deliver communications. The Inca built a road system that included suspension bridges for their runners.



Failing to consider the environmental context in which American Indian science arose is not only superficial scholarship – it is racist scholarship.
https://www.manataka.org/page2278.html
 

Lumpy Talbot

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No
The Lakota Sioux of the Black Hills have long used a Star Quilt in their symbology. They have always assumed that the Earth is of the Star Nations.

Which put them well ahead in cosmological terms of the heliocentrism of European science up to relatively recently centuries.

They used the constellations they could observe in the night sky as a kind of calendar to tell them where they should be to take best advantage of the seasons in their nomadic history.
 

Drogheda445

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The Americas had not even invented/discovered the wheel before the white man came.

Good op. Lots of info.
There is some evidence that Mayans and others in Central America did understand the concept of the wheel but were only used in novelty items (toys etc.). Given the lack of domesticated animals in America that could be used for traversing long distances it's understandable why they would not have had much use for the wheel.
 

Truth.ie

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You silly little British Stormfronter

Ive given up on the number of Irish towns you claim an intimate knowledge of - only to run like f*uck when anyone draws you out or challenges you.

Been in Stranocum have you:)

Now you are chattering about white men inventing the wheel.

You are just rubbish.
Where did I say white men invented the wheel?
Do you have reading comprehension issues?
 


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