1493 and the New World Columbus Created

Monday, August 15, 2011

Charles Mann explains how Christopher Columbus changed the world when he set foot in the Americas, setting off a series of vast ecological changes as European vessels carried thousands of species across the oceans. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, is a new history of the Columbian Exchange, the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in Florida, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand, and explains how earthworms, mosquitoes, and cockroaches; honeybees, dandelions, and African grasses; bacteria, fungi, and viruses; and rats were moved across the globe, changing lives and landscapes.


Charles Mann

Comments [11]

Terry from Stamford, CT

It's Charles C. Mann.

Aug. 15 2011 02:49 PM
david from Rio de Janeiro

Dear Mr Lopate,
as usual you show is great. But a little clarification is in order. The reason why Brazilians could not compete with South and Southeast Asia with their rubber plantation is that at the time, rubber trees being native to Brazil had many natural predators - fungii, bacteria, etc.. - while in Asia they could bloom without any competitors.
Hence, consumers with some environmental awareness should favour the consumption of natual South American rubber, because it's harvested in the forests, in trees naturally ocurring.
Sure, today technology would allow the plantation of this trees in Brazil, and the propoer pest control. But it's not economically competitive. The Asian industry is already too consolidated.

Aug. 15 2011 02:03 PM

A lot of this is covered in:

Science and Colonial Expansion: The Role of the British Royal Botanic Garden

Editorial Reviews
Product Description
This widely acclaimed book analyzes the political effects of scientific research as exemplified by one field, economic botany, during one epoch, the nineteenth century, when Great Britain was the world's most powerful nation. Lucile Brockway examines how the British botanic garden network developed and transferred economically important plants to different parts of the world to promote the prosperity of the Empire. In this classic work, available once again after many years out of print, Brockway examines in detail three cases in which British scientists transferred important crop plants-cinchona (a source of quinine), rubber and sisal-to new continents. Weaving together botanical, historical, economic, political, and ethnographic findings, the author illuminates the remarkable social role of botany and the entwined relation between science and politics in an imperial era.

About the Author
The late Lucile Brockway received her doctoral degree in anthropology from the City University of New York.

Aug. 15 2011 01:59 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I assume that's spelled "popery" & not "potpourri"!

Aug. 15 2011 01:56 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

The main thing is that Europeans were desperate to get a trade route to China, and what is today India and Indonesia, that got around the Muslim Turks who controlled the traditional routes through the Mediterranean and the MIddle East that had been lost with the failure of the Crusades. Columbus tripped over the Americas which he believed to be Asia to his dying day. That's why he called the natives "Indians." As it turned out, the Americas proved to be a bigger boon to European prosperity than did the routes to Asia, but that took a while to realize.
But the discovery of the Americas was a death blow to Muslim power and the power of Asia in general which soon thereafter began its rapid decline. Europe did not need Asian goods as much once they could get so much out of the Americas.
Asia only recently begun to recover, and the Muslim world still has not.

Aug. 15 2011 01:56 PM
Amy from Manhattan

We know smallpox was brought into the Americas from Europe--is the same true of cowpox, the source of the vaccine against smallpox?

Aug. 15 2011 01:53 PM
The Truth from Becky

The Africans did "bring" anything! There were not even there by choice.

Aug. 15 2011 01:51 PM
Bob from Pelham, NY

In addition to food crops, discovering that quinine bark from Peru could control malaria allowed Europeans to explore and conquer many areas previously off-limits to them.

Aug. 15 2011 01:50 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Tobacco as the Native Americans' revenge on Europeans? Well, the Smothers Brothers endorsed that idea. I think Tommy's line was "Here, white man. You smoke peace pipe, with tobacco in. Rot your lungs, ha ha."

Hmm. Is there any way to know if indigenous peoples who used tobacco were any less likely to get addicted to it than people from other parts of the world? Or to get lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease, etc., from it?

Aug. 15 2011 01:50 PM

I think what Ed from Larchmont meant to say is Columbus was bringing Christian hegemony and oppression to places that had their own forms of civilization that were equally valid, but Columbus and all subsequent murderous explorers were unable to appreciate that. His patron was Isabella. Christianity has been a blight on western life ever since.

Aug. 15 2011 01:42 PM
Ed from Larchmont

Columbus was heading for the east, but also he was a Catholic and sailed under the patronage of Mary. He was bringing the message of Christianity to places that had not heard it.

Aug. 15 2011 07:48 AM

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