How did the Columbian exchange link worlds?
In 1972 Alfred Crosby wrote The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 and coined the phrase “Columbian Exchange” to describe the exchange of goods, people, animals, and pathogens across the Atlantic during the age of exploration. While previous contact had been made between the Old World and the New by the Vikings, Crosby noted that Columbus’ voyages initiated continuous exchange between the two, resulting in more significant change to all areas involved. New agricultural products became of great interest to the people on both sides of the Atlantic and the exchange of these foods and plants was constant. The Europeans demanded the familiar, comforting foods of their homeland in their new colonial setting and European powers were more than eager to put the new farmland to use growing staple products for the home country. New products from the Americas had great appeal in Europe as well. The potato became a staple of Irish diets, Mexican cocoa once sweetened became a new delicacy for the elite, and American blends of tobacco a favorite among all classes. This exchange was not confined to Europe and the Americas. American corn became important to diets in Africa and American chili peppers were greatly appreciated in Asia. Coffee traveled to the New World from Europe but it had originated in the Middle East and variants of rice had come from Africa and Asia before finding fertile ground in the American southeast. Animals were part of the exchange as well. As early as his second voyage in 1493, Columbus brought horses, dogs, pigs, cattle, chickens, sheep, and goats to the new world in an exchange that would permanently alter the ecosystem of the Americas. Until his voyage, none of these animals existed in America except the dog and even so the original American dogs tended to die or interbreed with the European version. Bacteria and viruses made the journey across the Atlantic too with Europeans spreading smallpox, measles, whooping cough, and plague. These and other European diseases created epidemics that would spread and annihilate indigenous populations even before Europeans arrived. In return, the New World shared syphilis and tuberculosis, diseases previously unknown to Europe that ravaged the Old World. When diseases destroyed the native populations of the Americas, European colonizers seeking continued sources of labor for mines and plantations forcibly transported enslaved people from Africa to the Americas in one of the most notorious components of the transatlantic exchange. The transatlantic slave trade, beginning as early as 1509, was not outlawed until the early nineteenth century and resulted in millions of lives displaced and destroyed. All of these transfers had a monumental impact on the development of our modern world. In this section, scholars and contemporaries discuss the long term effects of the exchanges of people, goods, ideas, and disease that resulted from the contact between two worlds in 1492.