10 Diseases That Can Be Transmitted From Animals To Humans The Columbian Exchange Beginning With Spanish Colonization

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The Columbian Exchange Beginning With Spanish Colonization

The so-called discovery of the so-called New World by Europeans goes down in history as one of the most important and shocking moments in human history, ranking right up there with the advent of agriculture, the domestication of animals, and the discovery of the use of fire. Although the Vikings reached Newfoundland around 1000, they apparently decided that Greenland would make a much better colony and were beaten, leaving the Spanish with all the glory almost five centuries later. The ensuing exchange of plants, animals, people and diseases has since been called the “Columbian Exchange” after the charismatic Christopher Columbus, who crashed in the Bahamas thinking he’d reached India.

Over the next several centuries, various groups of European explorers brought crops such as corn, potatoes, cassava, tomatoes, peppers, cacao, peanuts, strawberries, and tobacco to the Old World from the Americas—meaning the potato is no longer Irish. . that the tomato is Italian, the pepper is Spanish, or the cigarette is French. In particular, carbohydrate-rich corn and potatoes helped alleviate the killer food shortages that were so common in Europe; Ireland’s population alone grew 800 percent in 200 years—only to be decimated by the potato blight in the mid-1840s. So much for putting all your potatoes in one basket.

Of course, it wouldn’t be called the Columbian Exchange if the process hadn’t gone both ways. Imagine the Plains Indians, then bring down the horses. Imagine a Central American banana republic, then subtract the bananas. Imagine a Colombian donkey carrying a load of coffee beans, then subtract the donkey and the coffee beans. Imagine a Mexican food spread, then subtract the rice, cheese, lettuce, black olives, onion, chicken, pork and beef. Or imagine a handful of sprawling, dry, completely impoverished Indian Reservations, then subtract smallpox, influenza, typhoid, cholera, tuberculosis, measles, scarlet fever, yellow fever, and malaria. These were just some of the things that Europeans brought with them during their first years of interaction with the New World.

The New World was a fairly healthy place before the Columbian Exchange, which is why Old World diseases found it so easy to devastate indigenous populations. Think Jim and Dwight talking about health insurance on The Office. Dwight: “Don’t need to. I’ve never been sick. Perfect immune system.” Jim: “Okay, well, if you’ve never been sick, then you don’t have antibodies.” Having already spent centuries suffering from constant outbreaks of some downright nasty diseases, the Old Worlders had built up an array of antibodies by the time they reached the Americas. In fact, many of the animals they brought to the New World—those aforementioned chickens, pigs, and cows, for example—were a major reason Europeans were so sick all the time. Apparently, sleeping in the same bungalow as your livestock can do some nasty damage to your health, especially at a time when washing once a week makes you a real man.

Before Spanish colonization and the Columbian exchange, the Native American population was estimated to be between 40 and 100 million, which means that, in all likelihood, Native Americans far outnumbered the 60 million citizens of Europe. In fact, in 1492, the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan was bigger, cleaner, and more beautiful than any city in Europe, while the Incas boasted the single largest empire on earth. The ensuing “Great Dying” of indigenous people may have killed as many as 1 in 5 people worldwide. Westerners want to go on and on about the Black Death of the fourteenth century, but the plague—or even the sum of Europe’s many plagues—cannot hold a candle to what happened in the New World.

When European settlers arrived in what is today the USA, they were absolutely delighted by how beautiful, pristine and landscape-like the landscape was, and as the “Indians” were dying in droves around them, they thought God was gave a sign of their right to the land. Little did they know that they had stumbled upon thousands of years of maintenance work by native peoples, many of whom had been decimated by rapidly spreading European diseases before the colonists got there.

The vast majority of indigenous people who suffered during the Columbian Exchange no longer exist to tell the tale. However, some of its unexpected survivors include America’s black population; the introduction of the cassava plant into West Africa resulted in a population boom that would help fuel slavery built around the cultivation of Columbian Exchange cash crops such as cotton, sugar cane, coffee, and tobacco. Although Americans have long been accustomed to living by words like “Manifest Destiny” and the “American Dream,” we must not forget the millions upon millions for whom, to quote Langston Hughes’ poem, America was a dream deferred.

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