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A. Crosby, Columbian Voyages and Exchange

A. Crosby, Columbian Voyages and Exchange - The Columbian...

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The Columbian Voyages, the Columbian Exchange, and Their Historians ALFRED W. CROSBY The Heirs of Columbus The bardic historians were relatively unconcerned with the geographic, biological, and demographic effects of the Columbian voyages, but these are the themes of current scholarship. The bulk of the research and analysis on these matters remains to be done, especially on the Columbian influence in Africa and Asia, but I can offer an interim report. THE INTELLECTUAL EFFECTS "Among the extraordinary though quite natural circumstances of my life," wrote Columbus's countryman, the mathematician and physician Girolamo Cardano, in the 1570s, "the first and most unusual is that I was born in this century in which the whole world became known; whereas the ancients were familiar with but a little more than a third part of it.” 9 In 1491 the European conception of the universe was much the same as it had been a thousand years and more before. The earth was believed to be at the center of crystalline spheres carrying the sun, moon, and stars, with the surface of the world above water divided into three parts--Europe, Africa, and Asia. Humans lived in all three land areas, but not in the Torrid Zone, which was dreadfully hot and therefore uninhabitable. The evidence that did not fit this model was still small enough in significance and quantity to be ignored or subdued to conformity by sophistry. But when Columbus returned in 1493 he rendered the old model obsolete in a stroke. Few realized this immediately, but the system was obviously overloaded with new data and bursting by the time Cardano wrote. Columbus added a fourth part to the world, the Americas, and his successors added the Pacific, an unimagined ocean of unimaginable breadth beyond America. Columbus and his followers also provided eyewitness testimony that torrid America was full of people. (Europeans had somehow been able to ignore earlier reports of Portuguese sailors that tropical Africa was heavily populated.) In addition, the New World was full of plants and animals about which Aristotle and Pliny had nothing to say—electric eels and camels without humps—and of people who were neither Muslim nor Jew, and certainly not Christian. Carolus Linnaeus papered his rooms and tormented his methodical Scandinavian mind with drawings of exotic American plants, and Alexander Humboldt and Charles Darwin puzzled over their American experiences and based their generalizations in large part thereon. Philosophers and thinkers from Michel de Montaigne to Jean Jacques Rousseau to Henry David Thoreau pondered and wrote on the meaning of Amerindians and their cultures. The Columbian discoveries galvanized anthropology, the product of Europeans trying to understand non-Europeans, into unprecedented acceleration. Proto-anthropologists and anthropologists from Pietro Martire d'Anghiera to Lewis Henry Morgan and Claude Lévi-Strauss struggled to fit Amerindians, with all their variety of
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