|One of the most
significant events in the history of man started after
Columbus found the new world in 1492. It's been
called the Columbian Exchange. What it refers to is the widespread exchange of agricultural goods, slave labor,
livestock and diseases between the Eastern and Western
Hemispheres. This resulted in a tremendous ecological
revolution. The name Columbian Exchange comes from
We take these things for granted now, but
this exchange of products, people and animals had a
tremendous impact on both sides of the Atlantic.
Some examples of the impact are:
- Before 1492 potatoes were not grown
outside of South America. By the 1800's the potato was
so important of a staple in Ireland that the a disease
wiped out much of the potato crop resulting in
widespread famine there. The parsnip was eaten before
potatoes were introduced in Europe.
- Tomatoes were native to America but
became a trademark in Italy known for its tomato sauces.
- Horses as we know of them were native
to Europe but they had a tremendous affect on the
lifestyles of the North American plains Indians allowing
them to hunt bison on horseback.
- Coffee from Africa and sugar cane from
Asia became primary products for Latin American
- There were no oranges in Florida
- Ecuador got bananas from tropical
- Italy had never seen a zucchini
- Hawaii had no pineapples
- Coffee came from Kaffa region in
- Africa did not have rubber trees
- Texas didn't have cattle
- Mexico had no burros
- Onions came from ancient Egypt
- Switzerland had not seen chocolate
- Thailand had never seen a chile pepper
- Dandelions were brought from Europe as
a beneficial herb
- Many communicable diseases had never
been seen in the Americas
Almost all societies on the face of the
Earth were affected by the Columbian exchange.
So what would a list of such items look
By looking at the above list you can
readily see the impact this exchange had. But behind those
words are even more impacts. In 1738 a smallpox epidemic
killed half of the Cherokee tribe; in 1759 nearly half of
the Catawbas died, after the turn of the century it is
estimated that 2/3 of the Omahas and likely half of the
entire Indian population between New Mexico and the Missouri
River; in 1837-38 almost every Mandan and maybe half of the
high plains Indians died. All from a disease that had never
been in this hemisphere. A disease that came with invaders
from Europe. The impact of the American diseases on the old
world were minimal. It is debatable if syphilis really came
from the America's.
The animals that came to Europe did not
have near the impact the European animals did on the new
World. Think what an impact the horse and cow had to the
The greatest contribution the New World
gave to the Old World were in crops. Corn, white potatoes,
sweet potatoes, squash, chiles and manioc have become basic
food for millions of people in Asia, Europe and Africa. The
spread of wheat and rice to the New World could be said to
have been responsible for the global population explosion of
the last centuries.
Why did this exchange happen? People from
the Old World coming here were use to a certain kind of
environment where they came from. So they brought that
environment with them the best they could on the ships. They
brought crops and animals. With those imports also came
weeds and insects.
An interesting side note: The Europeans
brought black slaves to America from Africa. The reason they
did so is diseases had decimated the native populations here
reducing the labor forces available.
Credit for this information and the list
from en.wikipedia.org link to the page is here.
I found this so interesting that I had to
share it here. Plus provide links back for more information
if you are even more curious.