The Columbian Exchange Refers

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The Columbian Exchange refers to a period of cultural and biological exchanges between the New and Old Worlds. Exchanges of plants, animals, diseases and technology transformed European and Native American ways of life. After Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the Americas, the animal, plant, and bacterial life of these two worlds began to mix. By reuniting formerly biologically distinct land masses, the Columbian Exchange had dramatic and lasting effects on the world.

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New diseases were introduced to American populations that had no prior experience of them. These populations also were introduced to new weeds and pests, livestock, and pets. New food and fiber crops were introduced to Eurasia and Africa, improving diets and fomenting trade there. In addition, the Columbian Exchange vastly expanded the scope of production of some popular drugs, bringing the pleasures ” and consequences ” of coffee, sugar, and tobacco use to many millions of people. The results of this exchange recast the biology of both regions and altered the history of the world.

Before the Europeans discovered the New World, the Native Americans lived a relatively disease-free life. During the time of the Columbian Exchange many diseases were recorded; small pox, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, bubonic plague, typhus, and malaria. Venereal Syphilis was one of twelve diseases to change the world. This may be surprising because today the symptoms are nonfatal and can be treated with penicillin. However, in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries syphilis was much more fatal, and the symptoms were much more severe. By the seventeenth century the disease developed into what we see as syphilis today. There are two theories of the origin of venereal syphilis. The first is the Columbian hypothesis.

It is thought of to be spread by Christopher Columbus and his crew. They acquired it from natives of Hispaniola, the island of Haiti and today’s Dominican Republic, through sexual contact. Encamped soldiers exposed the local populations prostitutes, which then amplified the spread of the disease. The second is the Pre-Columbian hypothesis. This hypothesis asserts the disease had always existed in the Old World. The fact that there were no accounts of the disease prior to the 1490s is because prior to this time it had not been differentiated from other diseases with similar symptoms. Recent findings from phylogenetics have added valuable evidence to this mystery. The evidence supports the Columbus hypothesis that syphilis is in fact a New World Disease.

Historian Alfred Crosby describes the significance of the transfer of food crops between the continents, writing: The coming together of the continents was a prerequisite for the population explosion of the past two centuries, and certainly played an important role in the Industrial Revolution. The transfer across the ocean of the staple food crops of the Old and New Worlds made possible the former. The primary benefit of the New World staples was that they could be grown in Old World climates that were unsuitable for the cultivation of Old World staples.

The New World crop maize has been widely adopted by a number of the Old World countries including Lesotho, Malawi, and Zambia. The average in Lesotho consumes 1,500 calories per day from maize. The top ten cassava- consuming countries are all from the Old World. Sweet Potatoes have been widely adopted in the Old World and today are most heavily consumed in the Solomon Islands, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and China. The New World crop the arguably had the largest impact on the Old World is the potato. It provides an abundant supply of calories and nutrients. This crop has been so widely embraced by Old World populations that today the top consumers of potatoes are all Old World countries.

Capsicum peppers originated in the areas today are Bolivia and Southern Brazil. By the arrival of the Europeans, migrated to Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. Tomatoes were originated in South America. Botanists believed the approximately 1,000 years before the Spanish arrived in the Americas, an unidentified wild ancestor of the tomato made its way North and came to be cultivated in South and Central America. It is suggested that the first tomatoes in Europe were yellow, not red. These were called golden apples, they were often eaten in Italy with oil, salt, and pepper. Historical records indicated that Christopher Columbus first brought back specimens of cacao pods to King Ferdinand I after his second voyage to the New World. It is believed that Native Americans began to use tobacco around the first century BCE for hallucinogen during religious ceremonies and as a pain killer.

Old World crops were grown much more productively in the New World soils and climates than they were grown back home. The New World and the Old World contain continents that lie on a North-South orientation and span nearly all degrees of latitude. There is a benefit from two regions being isolated for thousands of years. The isolation caused separate evolutions of plants, parasites, and pests. Therefore, transplanted crops often flourished because they were able to escape the pests and parasites that have coevolved with them in their natural habitat. The most striking example of an Old World crop that could be much more effectively cultivated in the New World is sugar cane. Sugar cane was brought from the Spanish Canary Islands to the Dominican Republic. By 1509, enslaved Africans were being imported to the island. By 1516 sugar was being exported to Europe.

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