The Columbian Exchange Summary

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War, financial systems, and political intrigue have long fascinated historians of all fields. Alfred W. Crosby Jr, in the Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 attempted to rectify this flaw in the historiography on the convergence of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres by arguing that “the most important changes brought on by the Columbian voyages were biological in nature.” (xiv) The legacy of this book is the emphasis Crosby places on the “Columbian Exchange” as a major factor in world development. He demonstrates how the reciprocal exchange of plants, animals, people, and diseases between the “Old World” and the “New” drastically altered the ecology and demography throughout the world. The Columbian Exchange is…show more content…
For example, when he claims that syphilis usually spreads when a society’s allegiance to marital fidelity fails, or later when he writes, “If we may assume that the nature of sailors in the sixteenth century was not radically different than in the twentieth…” (148) I can’t imagine as historians why we would assume that a sailor in 1550 shared many traits with one in 1970. Despite these issues, overall the author accomplishes what he set out to do, which was to demonstrate the biological and cultural influence of Columbus’ voyages on subsequent world history, and to emphasize the key role biological factors played in the eventual European dominance of the region. Crosby ends on an eerily prophetic, if pessimistic tone, as he describes the devastating ecological effect that the Columbian Exchange has had on the extinction rates of flora and fauna of the New World. He writes “The Columbian exchange has left us with not a richer but a more impoverished genetic pool. We, all of the life on this planet, are the less for Columbus, and the impoverishment will increase.” (219) Unfortunately for all of the life on this planet, his assessment as of today is regrettably
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