Monday, October 10, 2011

Worlds colliding

According to Charles C. Mann, the 1492 journey of Christopher Columbus to the New World and the movement of plants, animals, diseases and ideas that followed -- know as the Columbian Exchange -- is "the greatest event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs." Everything changed for people of both sides of the Atlantic Ocean -- mostly for the worse for the millions who had been inhabiting what was eventually called the Americas.

Mann has written a book called 1493 -- referring to how the world changed after Columbus first made landfall -- and though I haven't read it I did hear him on NPR a few weeks ago and the interview was pretty interesting. (Link to interview here.) Mann notes that:
"There's absolutely nothing in my garden that originated within 1,000 miles of my house," he says. "Tomatoes originated in Mexico. Basil came from Italy. Onions came from Europe. I live in Massachusetts. There's absolutely nothing in there from New England."
The exchange of foods has been wonderful, but we cannot forget that somewhere "between two-thirds and 90 percent of the people in the Americas" were wiped out, mostly from diseases unknowingly introduced by the conquering Europeans.

On this holiday we remember the meeting, 519 years ago, of two different worlds, and all of the ramifications, good and bad, of that encounter.

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