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Posted on March 18th, 2013, by

The Columbian exchange by Alfred W. Crosby became really revolutionary study about American society. At first, people witnessed serious scientific approach, which was not devoted to economic or political consequences of European conquering the New World. According to Alfred W. Crosby, the single most important factor in facilitating the European conquest of the Americas may be found, surprisingly, in a realm beyond simple human control: ecology (Crosby, p.1). The Columbian Exchange by Alfred W. Crosby tells the story of both large and small organisms movement after 1492, in both directions across the Atlantic. The main thesis of this book outlines that the changed history of our planet became the most significant consequence of Columbus discovery.
Being aimed to provide critical analysis of read work, there are several points which have to be considered. The first one devoted to evidences presented by the author. With the objective absence of the ability to confirm or refute contained in book data, the historical studies are the only source to make conclusions about credibility. Considering that Alfred W. Crosby’s work is well recognized by such popular scholars as Sherburne F. Cook, Woodrow Borah, Kenneth F. Kipl, William H. McNeil, we perceive author’s evidences as fully credible. In addition, there is the great job about variety of collected data. In this regard, writer’s ideas are supported and generated by significant historical researches, numerous quotations, using objective data from different fields of knowledge, statistics appeals. Being fully convinced with credibility of analyzed work, it is stated that “Columbian exchange”¯ by Alfred W. Crosby is the foundational work, which contributed much to the field of environmental history, and remains one of the canonical texts about the world’s history. Being so admired with read book, there is the try to support previous statement with critical analysis of main points of the plot.

Previously, it was stressed that the main thesis of Alfred W. Crosby devoted to significance of ecological transformations after 1492, as the main result of discovery made by Christopher Columbus. To get this general thesis, it is important to take some particular looks at the parts of the entire plot. At first, it is important to talk about gains of Amerindians an Europeans in Columbian Exchange. Talking about significant plants and animals exchange between New and Old worlds, scholar emphasizes that the first one was more contributed: “In this matter, as in that of diseases, the impact of The Old World on the New was so great that we of the 19th century can only imagine what pre-Columbian America must have been like”¯ (Crosby, p.2). Really, Europeans brought a lot and this fact is mostly related to kinds of animals: “As the number of humans plummeted, the population of imported domesticated animals shot upward. The first contingent of horses, dogs, pigs, cattle, chickens, sheep and goats arrived with Columbus on the second voyage in 1943”¯(Crosby, p.46). As for the agricultural contribution of European world, the rice, wheat, barley, oats, rye, turnips, onions, cabbage, lettuce, peaches, pears, sugar. The contribution of New World also worth to be considered as rather impressive. As for the plants, it gave Europeans maize (corn), white potatoes, sweet potatoes, manioc, peanuts, tomatoes, squash (incl. pumpkin), pineapples, papaya, avocados. The list of shared to Old World animals was not so impressive: llamas, guinea pigs, fowl (a few species). Aiming to get critical view about plants and animals exchanges, there are no doubts in credibility of read data. According to Alfred W. Crosby, all this data is based on existing historical references. Since, contemporary science does not know opposing approaches to the issue of agricultural and domestic animals exchange, facts placed in the work of famous scholar cannot be refuted.

Now let’s pay some attention to other, even more impressive, kind of exchange between New and Old world. Alfred W. Crosby claimed in next way: “More astonishing than the difference between the length of the lists of Old World’s and New World’s domesticated animals is the difference between the lengths of the lists of infectious diseases native to the two. The New World had only a few, possibly because humans had been present there and had lived in dense populations, cities, for a short time compared to the Old. Possibly of greater importance is the relative lack of domesticated herd animals in America, one of our richest sources of disease micro-organisms”¯ (Crosby, p.3). Actually, the interconnections between New and Old worlds hardly could be called exchange in this aspect. The Europeans brought to New world bubonic plague, chicken pox, cholera, influenza, leprosy, malaria, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhoid, typhus. In their turn, New World’s inhabitants “shared”¯ the yaws just. The new diseases affected Indians in really dramatic way. The consequence of this Columbian exchange became the millions of innocent deaths. Especially, this claim devoted to the pandemic of smallpox: “The impact of smallpox pandemic on the Aztec and Incan Empires is easy for the twentieth century reader to underestimate. We also have so long being hypnotized by the daring of conquistador that we have overlooked the importance of his biological allies. Because of the achievements of modern medical science we find it too hard to accept that the pandemic killed one-third to one-half of population struck by it”¦ The Mexicans had no natural resistance to the disease at all. Other diseases were probably operating quietly and efficiently behind the screen of smallpox”¯ (Crosby, p.52). This quote was put to show the general nature of microorganisms Columbian exchange after 1492. As you see, it was the game with only one gate. In fact, the issue of microbiological exchange is to the point to talk about how did the Europeans devastate the Amerindians population. In his book, Alfred W. Crosby outlined this factor as one the priors leading to violent expansion of new territories by Europeans. The author does not deny that devastation of New World’s inhabitants was led by conquering and economic interests of incomers. He just stresses that pandemics occurred at the territories of New Land simplified appropriate task’s execution several fold. For example, writer tells us about deaths of head chiefs, which were incredibly influential for the entire lives of Indians societies: “Not only the Inca, but many others in the key positions in Incan society died in the pandemics. The General Michnaca Mayta and many other military leaders, the governors Aqu Hilaquito and Auqui Tupac, the Inca’s sister”¦The deaths of the important persons must have robbed the Empire of much resiliency”¯(Crosby, p.54). At second, we should not forget about millions of regular deaths among aborigines, what seriously reduced the military power of struggling Empire: “the general estimates showed that the population of central Mexico was reduced from 25 to 18 millions of people under the influence of different reasons, and the smallpox pandemic was the most influential among them probably”¯(Crosby, p.53).

Providing the critical analysis of Alfred W. Crosby’s work, it should be accepted that data about microorganisms sharing during Columbian Exchange looks pretty credible and convincing. This claim is based on numerous historical researches, which were used by the writer as supportive evidences. In addition, we met multifaceted approach to analyzed issue. Eventually, Alfred W. Crosby used different methods of scientific investigation. Not to be unfounded, he resorted different historical sources, analyzed opposing to each other theories and provided philological analysis of terms even. All his ideas do not appear as some kinds of axioms. They are generated on the base of existing historical data and evidences. Thus, the part about microbiological exchange shouldn’t be seriously criticized from the methodological point of view. However, it has to be mentioned that talking about European devastate of Amerindians, author is not very troubled with the human motives. Such approach can be easily explained with the volume of investigational subject. In this order, it is important to remember that “Columbian exchange”¯ is the heritage of environmental history. Thereby, lack of info about economic and political motives of conquers cannot be perceived as some shortcoming.

To sum up, Alfred W. Crosby’s “Columbian Exchange”¯ worth to be recognized the decent heritage of history literature. The author made outstanding job to light out the consequences of Columbus discover, which remained unnoticed before. It is difficult to over esteem contribution of this book, due to incredible level of relevance, credibility and informational content. However, there is one critical view about read plot. It seems like the story written by the other hardly can match its title. This statement is grounded on two main points. At first, the term exchange presupposes the balance of two parts. The historical data and events do not give us the opportunity to talk in this way. At second, readers cannot stand aside from author’s dramatic retreats to stress the horrible consequences of Columbus discover for Amerindians. It seems like this approach towards plot’s building was not too suitable for study of environment history. Notwithstanding previous views, “Columbian Exchange”¯ remains incredibly valuable work. It gave readers the look at the second side of the same coin, which was not widely researched before.

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