The Columbian Exchange

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The Columbian Exchange

I. Introduction:

A. What was the Columbian Exchange?

-Global trade routes, before and after 1492

-intercontinental movement of plants, animals, and microbes, both intentional and unintentional
B. Significance of the Columbian Exchange?

-recent influential interpretations

-Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (1986)
-Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1999).

II. What got exchanged, what happened and who benefited?-- some specifics

A. Plants

—useful exchanges in both directions;

--role of corn, potatoes in European/Asian/ and African societies especially important

--many unintentional exchanges

B. Animals

-sheep (ex. Valle del Mezquital): “ecological release”

- horses in the Americas

- benefits and costs for Native Americans

-changing balance of power among groups (Comanche, Sioux benefit)

C. Disease

-Old World—more infectious disease

-smallpox most important

-introduced 1518 in Hispaniola;

-1518-1528: first smallpox pandemic in New World
-also: measles, cholera, influenza, typhoid, bubonic plague, malaria, yellow fever

  • Very high mortality among Native Americans compared to Europeans

-no “aquired immunity” (smallpox)

-other stressors

-Natives had no practical experience with these diseases and how to cure them

-estimating Native American mortality

-- Assessing the historical significance of disease vis-à-vis other factors

—another example: bubonic plague in Europe

--population recovery in this case

the limits of environmental/biological factors as an explanation for what happened in the Americas

--also need to consider: (1) European policies and practices; (2) Native American responses

--Factors (in addition to disease) contributing to the decline of Native populations in North America:

  1. Colonial invasionsà frequent, brutal warfare

2. Violent colonial policies including: forced labor, enslavement, forced relocation

3. Massive immigration of European settlers, 17-19th centuries

4. Loss of subsistence resources to theft and competition (from colonists, displaced tribes)

III. Conclusion:

A. Hybrid Landscapes

B. “Environmental determinism” and its limits as an historical explanation (single- versus multi-causal explanations)

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