The Great Exchange:

The Columbian Exchange


Late in the 15th century and on into the 16th and 17th centuries, the many worlds of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas became one: foods, animals, diseases, cultures, and people all became part of an interconnected, global, commercial network. The economic, political, technological, religious components of 15th century Iberia enabled the Portuguese and Spanish to foster the emergence of the first "global village":
Asian spices went to Europe;
African and American specie (gold/silver) went to Asia;
African slaves went to plantations in the Americas;
American foods went to Africa, Europe, Asia;
European diseases went to the Americas;
European Christianity went everywhere the Europeans did

 


image source < https://116412630050355542-a-castilleja-org-s-sites.googlegroups.com/a/castilleja.org/c-c-resources-2010-2011/a-europe-unit/Picture%203.png?attachauth=ANoY7crEDsw9T9OnIwHR9jOO16Bgp3UMYfjvD-Y3XLawEDPBmccKK3p2uon_qe4z5xGMHFDyIBYciVcE5bFbDqq_c6CCxLbQdEajPx7OsWZEMBTBkKPwPmXgPsu8CjPF-yXy6HC3a4ipGtoh-baICY1d77YYndQpnVwoN24UzJB_Rb9Z1EHEWR01ze_kwOlK1jEBKvGBaSV0VoqTAke7ssq86QPNKo9KM4ezkjJLshIVaZJmOIekcqc%3D&attredirects=0 >

Asian spices, though though not necessarily Indian in origin, were available in Calicut markets. Aside from pepper, most came from the Spice Islands [!] or Moluccas) and they became necessities during the heyday of the Silk Roads. Alas, this network fell into disrepair after the end of the Mongol hegemony and the rise of the Ottoman Turks. Furthermore, the many tolls and tariffs placed on exotic Asian goods by Arab and Italian middlemen made them extremely expensive for European consumers. The "biggies" in the spice trade were pepper, nutmeg, cloves, mace, and cinnamon, useful in enhancing flavor and as preservatives. "...cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and cloves were not workaday flavorings, but rather the world's most sought-after commodities. Their sources and supply lines dealt wealth or poverty to nations..." (Bernstein 111).
A spice is not an herb. A spice is, "'One or other of various strongly flavored or aromatic substances of vegetable origin, obtained from tropical plants, commonly used as condiments or employment for other purposes on account of their fragrance and preservative qualities'" (from the Oxford English Dictionary, quoted in Turner xix).
Jack Turner, author of Spice, identifies the most important of all the spices as pepper, a "perennial climbing vine native to India's Malabar Coast" (xxi). Although the plant produces white, green, and black peppercorns, black pepper is the most popular. It is now cultivated all over tropical Asia, with the main source being Singapore.


image source < http://www.herbdatanz.com/pepper_usd1926_picture_monograph.htm >

Cinnamon is a spice with a long history, mentioned in the Bible (Exodus, Proverbs, Song of Songs,) and used as an embalming agent in ancient Egypt. Cinnamon grows on trees in southern Asia, and it is the bark and sometimes cinnamon flower buds that were (and are) used in cooking. Today, cinnamon is still recommended as a food preservative and can help lessen the impact of high carb food on a person's blood sugar levels (Mateljan). Some research suggests that it also helps diabetics improve "their ability to respond to insulin..." (Mateljan). For more than you could possibly want to know about cinnamon, visit the Mateljan website.

< http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Cinn_zey.html >
Cloves (left) and nutmeg (right) were also high on the list. The name "clove" derives from the Latin clavis, or nail, because of its nail-like appearance (Turner xxii). It is perhaps difficult to imagine that these four (among others) helped to trigger the Age of Exploration and Discovery as they do not seem that mainstream in contemporary American cuisine! Cloves featured as a kind of breath mint in the ancient world as elites chewed cloves to sweeten their breath.

< http://www.thevinetimes.com/images/spices/cloves-lg.jpg >
< http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/ >

To pay for the spices, the Iberians did not have much to offer Asian merchants, except, of course gold. The Portuguese established a "factory" at El Mina on the West Coast of Africa and traded directly with African kings and princes for their gold, bypassing the Berber-Tuareg caravans of the Trans-Sahara Gold-Salt Trade. Portuguese sailors, adventurers, explorers from Prince Henry's school reached West Africa in the middle of the 15th century. After Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope/Storms and made it to India, the Portuguese emerged as the main "carrying nation" between Europe, Africa, and Asia. Portuguese caravels carried gold to Asia, spices to Europe, cowrie shells to Africa. Additionally, the Portuguese introduced Christianity, guns, spirits, textiles to Africa. It was not long before they carried slaves as well, once, that is, sugar entered the equation. European merchants, the Genoese and Venetians, had been slave traders for centuries, but that is part of another story.

Sugar cane probably originated in New Guinea and diffused along trade routes by Arab merchants to southwest Asia; its cultivation reached eastern Mediterranean islands such as Cyprus and Crete in the 8th century CE, where it was raised on plantations by Muslim farmers. Europeans developed a "sweet tooth" during the Crusades, and sugar became a highly desired import. With the disruption of the Silk Roads and Mediterranean trade and the rise of the Ottoman Turks, the price of sugar escalated accordingly. Portuguese entrepreneurs began to construct sugar plantations on the island of Sao Tomé off the coast of Africa, using slave labor from the African mainland. Once Columbus introduced sugar to the New World on his second voyage, the plantation system came to the Caribbean and Brazil, and with it African slavery.

< http://daphne.palomar.edu/scrout/sugar.htm >
Sugar production entailed intensive, harsh, back breaking labor. The planting, havesting, and milling of sugar absorbed literally millions of African lives, enriching the merchants engaged in the Atlantic slave trade and the absentee owners of Caribbean and Brazilian plantations. (On this subject, more later.)

< http://www.learner.org/channel/courses/worldhistory/unit_video_16-2.html >

To summarize: the first acts of the Columbian Exchange took place without Columbus' participation, that is, European-African-Asian linkages developed without Columbus (or Spain) playing a part. The first elements of the exchange involved Asian spices (pepper, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, et al.) and African specie (gold) carried in Portuguese caravels. However, when "in 1492/Columbus sailed the Ocean blue," the New World became an integral part of the "global village." As indicated above, sugar (an Asian crop) and slaves (from Africa) were an essential ingredient in the Great or Columbian Exchange. On his three voyages, Columbus found little of the treasure that he promised to Ferdinand and Isabella, but he did facilitate and expedite the cultivation of sugar in the Caribbean and the introduction of vitally important New World crops to Europe, Asia, and Africa. You might use the device of the 4 S's to remind yourself of: spices, specie, sugar, slaves.

New World crops such as corn (maize,) potatoes (white and sweet,) and peanuts comprised the three most important, but others such as tobacco, tomatoes, manioc, various squashes and beans were important crops in the Columbian Exchange. All American school children know the legend of how Squanto saved the Pilgrims by teaching them how to grow corn. Peanuts became a huge source of protein in Africa and northern China. The potato revolutionized dietary and eating patterns among Europe's poor, especially in Ireland, Poland, Russia. The Old World gave its bounty as well: rice, wheat, barley, oats, turnips, sugar, to name just a few.

< http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/nattrans/ntecoindian/essays/columbianb.htm>

It is worth pausing for a moment to emphasize the lowly potato. "The growth of population...in Northern Europe could not have happened...without the increased nourishment provided by the potato" (Tomaske). Potatoes thrive in a climate with short, wet winters, such as those of the northern European plain and are rich in calories and nutrients. Potatoes were easier to store (i.e. in the ground) than grains that had to be harvested and put in a barn. For many poor European peasants, the potato "became an insurance..." against ravaging soldiers and tax collectors (Tomaske,) not to mention starvation!

< http://66.188.129.72:5980/History/AmericanIndian/euro_columbiexchange.htm >

Look carefully at the various foods depicted in the graphic to your left (a 16th century painting, Market Woman At Vegetable Stand.) This Dutch woman is the beneficiary of the cornucopia of New World foods that enriched the diet of both European elites and peasants. (Annenberg)


< http://www.learner.org/channel/courses/worldhistory/unit_video_16-1.html >

 

The Old World gave important livestock to the New World, which benefited it significantly. Indigenous peoples had domesticated dogs, llamas, and a few species of fowl (notably the turkey,) but Europeans brought horses, donkeys, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. As suggested by the graphic, the horse revolutionized the life style of North American plains' Indians.

< http://daphne.palomar.edu/scrout/_borders/Miller2Fsioux1.jpg >
The downside of the introduction of the animal species mentioned above was disease. Native Americans had no immunities to Europe's "killers." Their lack of domesticated herd animals was a factor, as disease micro-organisms passed from animals to humans. Thus, smallpox, chickenpox, measles decimated American populations, wreaking a demographic disaster on the Native Americans. According to Bentley-Ziegler, 95% of Mexico's population died (21,000,000) as a result of the Conquest. Some sources estimate that 100,000,000 may have died between 1500 and 1800 (Bentley and Ziegler 630).

< http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/nattrans/ntecoindian/essays/columbianb.htm>

Historian Stephen Crouthamel quotes a leading scholar, "'Smallpox was the captain of the men of death..., typhus fever the first lieutenant, and measles the second lieutenant. More terrible than the conquistatores on horseback, more deadly than sword and gunpowder....'"

< http://daphne.palomar.edu/scrout/disease.htm >

To summarize: Crouthamel identifies five key components in the Columbian Exchange:
Corn, Potatoes, the Horse, Disease, and Sugar.
(< http://daphne.palomar.edu/scrout/colexc.htm >) He doesn't mention the rest of the demographic story. Yes, millions of Africans came to the Americas to work as slave labor in the mines and plantations of European settlers. Hundreds of thousands of Europeans settled in the New World as well, though most came as willing immigrants rather than as coerced labor.
There's one more piece of the story of the Great Columbian Exchange with short term and long term consequences for Old World and New World.* The Conquest, particularly that of Central and South American civilizations by the Conquistadores, brought defeat, subjugation, death in catastrophic numbers, and Christianity. Remember that Iberian motivations included God as well as glory and gold. They had the advantage of steel weaponry, fire power, and horses. Unbeknownst to them or their victims, they also carried the infectious diseases, described above. Spanish Conquistadores played an important role in the Columbian Exchange.

Hernán Cortés conquered the mighty Aztecs, while Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca: These two empires provided the vast, almost unimaginable, wealth that drew the explorers and conquerors in their search for El Dorado. From 1520 to 1800, "two hundred tons of gold were exported to Europe, and 20,000 tons of silver."

< http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/eurvoya/aztec.html >
< http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/eurvoya/inca.html >

 

The Spanish governor of Cuba sent Hernán Cortés to explore Yucatán and the Gulf of Mexico in the early 16th century. There, Cortés heard stories of the fabulously wealthy Aztec empire and convinced Governor Velásquez to equip him with a few pieces of artillery, 400 soldiers, and sixteen horsemen to conquer the land in the name of Spain and the True Faith. As he trekked inland (see map below,) Cortés gained allies among dissidents hostile to Aztec rule. He reached the Aztec capital, Tenochtítlan, surprised to find himself welcomed by the people and their emperor, Moctezuma, as the returning, white-skinned god, Quetzlcoatl. Relations between the Aztecs and Spanish, however, deteriorated from that happy beginning. To make a long story short, in 1521, the Spanish blockaded the city, just as an outbreak of smallpox weakened its defenders. "Cortés...pushed his way into the city and razed all of the Aztec buildings so that hardly a trace of the city remained." (Applied_History, Cortes)

< http://www.pbs.org/kpbs/theborder/images/1519hernancortez.jpg >
It wasn't that easy, as you can see from the map and time frame indicated. Decimated by disease,the Aztecs were then massacred by the Spanish!

< http://www.pbs.org/kpbs/theborder/images/1519hernancortez_routeoftravel.gif >

< http://www.pbs.org/kpbs/theborder/images/1519hernancortez_toxcatl-massacre.jpg >

Francisco Pizarro's conquest of the Inca Empire, and his murder of its emperor, Atahualpa, was no less bloodthirsty. Like Cortés, he heard rumors of a rich and powerful empire south of Panama. He set off in 1530 with a contract from the Crown to conquer and Christianize Peru.

< http://dc.inictel.gob.pe/proyectoteleed/HISTORIA/piza6.jpg >
(alas, HISTORIA site has flown away into cyberspace)

Accompanied by a scant troop of 180, Pizarro also had horses, steel weapons, and firepower hitherto unseen by the indigenous peoples. Like Cortés against the Aztecs who were feared and hated by their vassal states, Pizarro could take advantage of internal difficulties, political crisis, and recent civil war in the Inca Empire recently taken over by Atahualpa. Luckily for Pizarro and unluckily for the Inca, smallpox reached the Empire before the Spanish. Pizarro captured and held Atahualpa for a ransom of 13,420 pounds of gold and 26,000 pounds of silver (Applied_History, Pizarro.) After collecting the booty, Pizarro executed Atahualpa and set about completing the conquest. Wherever Cortés, Pizarro, and the other Conquistadores went, they brought the sword; they also brought the Cross.


< http://dc.inictel.gob.pe/proyectoteleed/HISTORIA/pizarro.htm >

Catholic Priests, Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits accompanied every Spanish and Portuguese voyage. Spreading the Faith and planting the True Cross were part and parcel of the Age of Exploration and Discovery, integral to the Columbian Exchange. Despite resistance, missionaries persevered in their efforts to eradicate pagan deities and practices. Missionaries and priests were were arms of Crown and and administration and helped to enforce their authority. On a positive note, many missionaries worked to ameliorate the worst aspects of the Conquest. The Dominican friar, Bartolomé de las Casas, voyaged to Spain to plead first with King Ferdinand (1515) and then with King Charles (1520, 1542) for better treatment for the indigenous peoples. It was largely due to his efforts that the "Laws of the Indies" provided that Indians [sic] could not be enslaved, that they were royal vassals and therefore protected by the Crown. (Halsall, New Laws)

< http://redescolar.ilce.edu.mx/redescolar/efemerides/enero/conme5.htm>

Surely you remember from your 4th grade Mission Project (part of the California Curriculum) how important the missions were in the settlement of California. You have probably visited Mission Carmel or the Santa Clara Mission. One of California's most beautiful and carefully preserved missions is the one at Santa Barbara (right.)


< http://www.wedinsb.com/locations/mission1.html >

blah blah test

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*The full impact of the Great Exchange on Africa comprises another chapter.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Annenberg CPB Foundation. "Unit 16: Food, Demographics, and Culture." Bridging World History. Online Available.
< http://www.learner.org/channel/courses/worldhistory/unit_video_16-1.html>

The Applied History Research Group. "The Conquest of the Aztec Empire: Hernán Cortes."
The European Voyages of Exploration and Discovery. Online Available.
< http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/eurvoya/aztec.html >

Bernstein, William. A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped the World. New York:
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008.

"Cinnamon." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Online available.
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinnamon >

Crouthamel, Steven. "The Columbian Exchange." American Indian Studies. Online Available.
< http://daphne.palomar.edu/scrout/colexc.htm>

The George Mateljan Foundation. "Cinnamon." The World's Healthiest Foods. Online available.
< http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=68 >

Halsall, Paul. "Modern History Sourcebook: The New Laws of the Iindies, 1542." Internet History Sourcebooks Project.
Online Available. < http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1542newlawsindies.html >

Hughes, Ivor. "Pepper." Herbdata. Online available.
< http://www.herbdatanz.com/pepper_usd1926_picture_monograph.htm >

Instituto Nacional de Investigacíon y Capacitación de Telecumicaciones. Francisco Pizarro. Online Available.
< http://dc.inictel.gob.pe/proyectoteleed/HISTORIA/pizarro.htm >

Katzer, Gernot. "Cinnamon." Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages. Online Available.
< http://www.uni-graz.at/~katzer/engl/Cinn_zey.html >

The National Humanities Center. "The Columbian Exchange: Plants, Animals, and Disease between the Old and New Worlds"
by Alfred Crosby. Online Available.
< http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/nattrans/ntecoindian/essays/columbianb.htm >

"Overview: Columbian Exchange." History of American Indians. Online Available.
< http://66.188.129.72:5980/History/AmericanIndian/euro_columbiexchange.htm >
This source, even though I cannot figure out who wrote it, is rich in easy-to-understand language
on the various aspects of the Columbian Exchange.

PBS. "Hernan Cortes Arrives in Mexico." The Border. Online Available.
< http://www.pbs.org/kpbs/theborder/history/timeline/1.html >

Rojas Paredes, Laura. "Fray Bartolomé de las Casas." Red Escolar. Online Available.
< http://redescolar.ilce.edu.mx/redescolar/efemerides/enero/conme5.htm >

Tobin, Rich. "Santa Barbara Mission Rose Garden." Weddings in Santa Barbara. Online Available.
< http://www.wedinsb.com/>

Tomaske, John. The Columbian Exchange. Online Available.
< http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/jtomask/471/colexchng.htm>

Turner, Jack. Spice: The History of a Temptation. New York: Vintage Books,
A Division of Random House, Inc., 2005.

Uzgalis, Bill. "Bartolome de las Casas." The History of Western Philosophy. Online Available.
< http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/ph1302/philosophers/las_casas.html >