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crosby sec 3 - 5 Ecological Imperialism The Overseas...

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Unformatted text preview: 5 Ecological Imperialism: The Overseas Migration of Western Europeans as a Biological Phenomenon Alfred W. Crosby Industrial man may in many respects be considered an aggres- sive and successful weed strangling other species and even the weaker members of its own. Stafford Lightman, “The Responsibilities of Intervention in Isolated Societies,“ Health and Disease in Tribal Societies Euaormus IN NORTH AMERICA, especially those with an interest in gardening and botany, are often stricken with fits of homesickness at the sight of certain plants which, like themselves, have somehow strayed thousands of miles eastward across the Atlantic. Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian exile, had such an experience on the mountain slopes of Oregon: Do you recognize that clover? Dandelions, l’or du pant/re? (Europe, nonetheless, is over.) A century earlier the success of European weeds in America inspired Charles Darwin to goad the American botanist Asa Gray: “Does it not hurt your Yankee pride that we thrash you so confoundly? I am sure Mrs. Gray will stick up for your own weeds. Ask her whether they are not more honest, downright good sort of weeds.”l The common dandelion, I’or du para/re, despite its ubiquity and its bright yellow flower, is not at all the most visible of the Old World immigrants in North America. Vladimir Nabokov was a prime example of the most visible kind: the Homo sapiens of European origin. Europeans and their descen- 1 Page Stegner, ed.. 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Crosby success in the past few centuries can accurately be described by a term fro apiculture: They have swarmed. They swarmed to lands which were populated at the time of Europea arrival by peoples as physically capable of rapid increase as the Europeans, and yet who are now small minorities in their homelands and sometimes n more than relict populations. These population explosions among colonia Europeans of the past few centuries coincided with population crashes among the aborigines. lf overseas Europeans have historically been less fatalistic and grim than their relatives in Europe, it is because they liav viewed the histories of their nations very selectively. When he returned from his world voyage on the Beagle in the 18305, Charles Darwin, as a biologist ? rather than a historian, wrote, “Wherever the European has trod, death _- seems to pursue the aboriginal.”5 Any respectable theory which attempts to explain the Europeans' demo- ' graphic triumphs has to provide explanations for at least two phenomena. The first is the decimation and demoralization of the aboriginal populations ' of Canada, the United States, Argentina, and others. The obliterating defeat of these populations was not simply due to European technological superiority. The Europeans who settled in temperate South Africa seemingly had the same advantages as those who settled in Virginia and New South Wales, and yet how different was their fate. The Bantu-speaking peoples, who now overwhelmingly outnumber the whites in South Africa, were superior to their American, Australian, and New Zealand counterparts in that they possessed iron weapons, but how much more inferior to a musket or a rifle is a stone-pointed spear than an iron-pointed spear? The Bantu have prospered demographically not because of their numbers at the time of first contact with whites, which were probably not greater per square mile than those of the Indians east of the Mississippi River. Rather, the Bantu have prospered because they survived military conquest, avoided the conquerors, or became their indispensable servants - and in the long run because they reproduced faster than the whites. In contrast, why did so few of the natives of the Lands of the Demographic Takeover survive? Second, we must explain the stunning, even awesome success of European agriculture, that is, the European way of manipulating the environment in the Lands of the Demographic Takeover. The difficult progress of the European frontier in the Siberian taiga or the Brazilian sertfio or the South African ueldt contrasts sharply with its easy, almost fluid advance in North America. Of course, the pioneers of North America would never have characterized their progress as easy: Their lives were filled with danger, deprivation, and unremitting labor; but as a group they always succeeded in 5 Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1967-). PP. 433-4- 106 Ecological Imperialism taming whatever portion of North America they wanted within a few decades and usually a good deal less time. Many indmduals among them failed — they were driven mad by blizzards and dust storms, losttheir crops 6 locusts and their flocks to cougars and wolves, or lost their scalps to understandably inhospitable Indians - but as a group they always suc- ceeded - and in terms of human generations, very quickly. . In attempting to explain these two phenomena, let us'examine four categories of organisms deeply involved in European expansion: (1) human eings' (2.) animals closely associated with human beings — both the ' and mice; (3) pathogens or microorganisms that cause disease in humans; _ and (4) weeds. Is there a pattern in the histories of these groups which suggests an overall explanation for the phenomenon of the Demographic Takeover or which at least suggests fresh paths of inquiry? . Europe has exported something in excess of sixty million people in-the past few hundred years. Great Britain alone exported over twenty million. ‘The great mass of these white emigrants went to the United States, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Uruguay, and New Zealand. (Other areas to absorb comparable quantities of Europeans were Braztl and Russm east of the Urals. These would qualify as Lands of the Demographic Takeover except that large fractions of their populations are non-European.)‘ In stark contrast, very few aborigines of the Americas, Australia, or New Zealand ever went to Europe. Those who did often died not long after arrival.7 The fact that the flow of human migration was almost entirely from Europe to her colonies and not vice versa isnot startling — or very enlightening. Europeans controlled overseas migration, and Europe needed to export, not import, labor. But this pattern of one~way migration is significant in that it reappears in other connecnons. The vast expanses of forests, savannas, and Steppes in the Lands of the Demographic Takeover were inundated by animals from the Old World, chiefly from Europe. Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs have for hundreds of years been among the most numerous of the quadrupeds of these lands, which were completely lacking in these species at the time of first contact with the Europeans. By 1600 enormous feral herds of horses and cattle surged over the pampas of the Rio de la Plata (today’s Argentina and Uruguay) and over the plains of northern Mexico. By the beginning of the seventeenth century packs of Old World dogs gone Wlld were among the predators of these herds.a 6 William Woodmff, Impact of Western Man (New York: St. Martin‘s, i967), 106—8. 7 Carolyn T. Foreman, Indians Abroad (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943), assim. 8 gifted W. Crosby, The Columbiaii Exchange (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1972), pp. 107 / Alfred W. Crosby In the forested country of British North America population explosions among imported animals were also spectacular, but only by European standards, not by those of Spanish America. In 1700 in Virginia feral hogs, said one witness, “swarm like vermaine upon the Earth," and young gentlemen were entertaining themselves by hunting wild horses of the inland counties. In Carolina the herds of cattle were “incredible, being from one to two thousand head in one Man’s Possession.” In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the advancing European frontier from New England to the Gulf of Mexico was preceded into Indian territory by an avantOgarde of semiwild herds of hogs and cattle tended, now and again, by semiwild herdsmen, white and black.9 The first English settlers landed in Botany Bay, Australia, in January of 1788 with livestock, most of it from the Cape of Good Hope. The pigs and poultry thrived; the cattle did well enough; the sheep, the future source of the colony’s good fortune, died fast. Within a few months two bulls and four cows strayed away. By 1804 the wild herds they founded numbered from three to five thousand head and were in possession of much of the best land between the settlements and the Blue Mountains. If they had ever found their way through the mountains to the grasslands beyond, the history of Australia in the first decades of the nineteenth century might have been one dominated by cattle rather than sheep. As it is, the colonial government wanted the land the wild bulls so ferociously defended, and considered the growing practice of convicts running away to live off the herds as a threat to the whole colony; so the adult cattle were shot and salted down and the calves captured and tamed. The English settlers imported woolly sheep from Europe and sought out the interior pastures for them. The animals multiplied rapidly, and when Darwin made his visit to New South Wales in 1836, there were about a million sheep there for him to seem The arrival of Old World livestock probably affected New Zealand more radically than any other of the Lands of the Demographic Takeover. Cattle, horses, goats, pigs and — in this land of few or no large predators —- even the Footnote 8 (continued) 82—88; Alexander Gillespie, Gleanings and Remarks Collected during Many Months of Residence at Buenos Aires (Leeds: B. DeWhirst, [818). p. 136; Oscar Schmieder, "Alteration of the Argentine Pampa in the Colonial Period,“ University of California Publications in Geography 2. (1.7 September 1917): n. 31 i. 9 Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1947), pp. 153. 311., 318; John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina (n. p.: Readex Microprint Corp., 1966), p. 4; Frank L. Owsley, “The Pattern of Migration and Settlement of the Southern Frontier." journal of Southern History 1 I (May I945): 147—75- Io Commonwealth of Australia, Historical Records of Australia (Sydney: Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1914), ser. 1. vol. 1. p. 550; vol. 7, pp. 379—80; vol. 8, pp. 150—1; vol. 9, pp. 349. 714. 831; vol. to, pp. 91., 2.80, 632.; vol. :0, p. 839. 108 Ecological Imperialism usually timid sheep went wild. In New Zealand herds of feral farm animals were practicing the ways of their remote ancestors as late as the 19405 and no doubt still run free. Most of the sheep, though, stayed under human control, and within a decade of Great Britain’s annexation of New Zealand in I840, her new acquisition was home to a quarter million sheep. In I974 New Zealand had over fifty-five million sheep, about twenty times more sheep than people.ll In the Lands of the Demographic Takeover the European pioneers were accompanied and often preceded by their domesticated animals, walking sources of food, leather, fiber, power, and wealth, and these animals often adapted more rapidly to the new surroundings and reproduced much more rapidly than their masters. To a certain extent, the success of Europeans as colonists was automatic as soon as they put their tough, fast, fertile, and intelligent animals ashore. The latter were sources of capital that sought out their own sustenance, improvised their own protection against the weather, fought their own battles against predators and, if their masters were smart enough to allow calves, colts, and lambs to accumulate, could and often did show the world the amazing possibilities of compound interest. The honey bee is the one insect of worldwide importance which human beings have domesticated, if we may use the word in a broad sense. Many species of bees and other insects produce honey, but the one which does so in greatest quantity and which is easiest to control is a native of the Mediterranean area and the Middle East, the honey bee (Apis mellifera). The European has probably taken this sweet and short-tempered servant to every colony he ever established, from Arctic to Antarctic Circle, and the honey bee has always been one of the first immigrants to set off on its own. Sometimes the advance of the bee frontier could be very rapid: The first hive in Tasmania swarmed sixteen times in the summer of 1831.” Thomas Jefferson tells us that the Indians of North America called the honey bees “English flies,” and St. John de Crevecoeur, his contemporary, wrote that “The Indians look upon them with an evil eye, and consider their progress into the interior of the continent as an omen of the white man’s approach: thus, as they discover the bees, the news of the event, passing from mouth to mouth, spreads sadness and consternation on all sides)": 1 1 Andrew H. Clark, The Invasion of New Zealand by People, Plants, and Animals (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1949), p. I90; David Walleehinsky, Irving Wallace, and A. Wallace, The Book of List: (New York: Bantam, t978), pp. 119—30. 1:. Remy Chauvin, Traité de biologic de l'abeille (Paris: Mason et Cie, 1968), vol. 1, pp. 38—9; James Backhouse, A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies (London: Hamilton, Adams and Co., 1834), p. :3. 13 Merrill D. Peterson, ed., The Portable Thomasjefferson (New York: Viking, 1975), p. t t 1; Michel-Guillaume St. Jean de Crevecoeur, journey into Northern Pennsylvania and the State of New York. trans. Clarissa S. Bostelmann (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1964), p. 166. 109 Alfred W. Crosby Domesticated creatures that traveled from the Lands of the Demographic Takeover to Europe are few. Australian aborigines and New Zealand Maoris had a few tame dogs, unimpressive by Old World standards and unwanted by the whites. Europe happily accepted the American Indians' turkeys and guinea pigs, but had no need ...
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