The Columbian Exchange
has been one of the most significant events in the history of world ecology
, agriculture, and culture
. The term is used to describe the enormous widespread exchange of agricultural goods and communicable diseases between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres that occurred after 1492. That year, Christopher Columbus
's voyage of discovery launched an era of large-scale contact between the Old and the New World that resulted in this ecological revolution: hence the name "Columbian" Exchange.
This exchange of plants and animals transformed European, American, African, and Asian ways of life. Foods that had never been seen before by some peoples became staples. For example, before 1492 no potatoes were grown outside of South America. By the 1800s, Ireland was so dependent on the potato that a shortage lead to the devastating Irish Potato Famine. The first European import, the horse
, changed the lives of many Native American tribes on the Great Plains, allowing them to shift to a nomadic lifestyle based on hunting bison on horseback. Tomato sauce, made from New World tomatoes, became an Italian trademark, while coffee and sugarcane from Asia became the main crops of extensive Latin American plantations. Before the Columbian Exchange, there were no orange in Florida, no bananas in Ecuador, no rubber trees in Africa, no cattle
in Texas, no burros in Mexico
, and no chocolate in Switzerland
. Even the dandelion was brought to America by Europeans for use as an herb. Before regular communication had been established between the two hemispheres, the varieties of domesticated animals and infections diseases were both strikingly larger in the Old World than in the New. This led, in part, to the devastating effects of Old World diseases on Native American populations.
Scarcely any society on earth remained unaffected by this global ecological exchange. Since the voyages of Columbus and his successors, no kitchen or garden has ever been the same.
|Pre-Columbian distribution of organisms with close ties to humans|
|Type of organism||Old World list||New World list|
- maize (corn)
- sweet potato
- squash (incl. pumpkin)
- one or more of the treponematoses
- (a category including syphilis)
- tuberculosis (possibly)
- Chagas' disease
Sources Online essay
about the Columbian Exchange