In 1493, Charles Mann shows us how Europeans emerged at the center of a modern, globalized world by establishing the Columbian Exchange; a system they created but could not control, and with consequences none of them could imagine.

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00:00:35a month welcome to context this is Brad Harris today we're turning our attention to one of the most talented historical thinkers of our generation and his a claim to book about the origins of modern globalization Charles man's fourteen ninety three on covering the New World Columbus created at
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00:03:09on Facebook at context with Brad Harris ends now for fourteen ninety three on covering the New World Columbus created by Charles man one led to the rise of the modern world what is it that has enabled some societies to make so much progress while others have languished in
00:03:36particular how did Europeans and their descendants abroad managed to exert such disproportionate historical influence in recent centuries after lagging behind for so long these are questions worth dwelling on not to glorify the west but to understand how much control we really have over our fate countless historians have
00:03:59tackled these questions but many of their books as we've seen settle the issue in one of two ways some claim that the recent dominance of western civilization is merely an accident of history the result of lock for the environment Jared diamond's guns germs and steel exemplified this by
00:04:20explaining the uneven fates of human societies in terms of the uneven environmental resources at their disposal on the other hand other historians argue that western power was no accident at all and was instead of the historical consequence of unique values and institutions David Landes book the wealth and
00:04:41poverty of nations for example highlighted north west Europe exceptional in through Z. as in for novelty and its unrivaled respect for private property as necessary ingredients for the industrial revolution while Margaret Jacob in her book scientific culture in the making of the industrial west revealed how Britain became
00:05:01one of the wealthiest countries in history in large part by making the pursuit of knowledge itself profitable now both of these two historical frameworks are valuable but it's rare to encounter an author who succeeds in integrating each of them historical power of accident and purpose into a single
00:05:21narrative Charles Mann is an exception he accomplishes this in a grand historical synthesis of maternity that revolves around the rise of global exchange fourteen ninety three on covering the New World Columbus created published in two thousand eleven man's book is nothing short of epic after reading fourteen ninety
00:05:45three it's hard to see the world in quite the same way ever again what makes man such a compelling big picture thinker is that as a science journalist he has a unique ability to assimilate the insights of countless specialists in multiple fields from history and archaeology to ecology
00:06:05and epidemiology and co here them into a dynamic inter connected story about why things are the way they are an ecologist like Jared diamond's might look at the world and see how the environment to constrain civilizational development and economic historian like David Landais looks at the same world
00:06:25and sees how private property rights incentivize innovation Charles man appears to see all of that and more ended by fusing such a wide array of specialists perspectives man helps us see how Europeans emerged at the center of a modern globalized world based on unprecedented systems of exchange that
00:06:47they did create on purpose and that they did direct in part but that ended up being so much bigger than any of them could comprehend that had consequences none of them could imagine quote the ships that sailed across the Atlantic carried not only human beings but plants and
00:07:05animals and also less familiar organisms like insects grasses bacteria and viruses sometimes intentionally sometimes accidentally after Columbus ecosystems that had been separate for eons suddenly Mactan mixed in a process that historian Alfred Crosby called the Columbian exchange the Columbian exchange was neither fully controlled nor understood by its
00:07:31participants but it allowed Europeans to transform much of the world into ecological versions of Europe another way might be to say that Columbus's voyage did not mark the discovery of a New World but its creation how that world was created is the subject of this book end quote
00:07:52like many of us patrols man grew up seeing textbook illustrations of Christopher Columbus disembarking on the shores of America in fourteen ninety two after having triumphantly sailed the ocean blue the drawings most of us were educationally weaned on showed a meeting of a strange to people and little
00:08:12else but man realized that many more significant travelers hidden from view flooded into the New World in that critical moment Columbus and those who followed him were transplanting entire chunks of European ecology with them from pigs and horses and bees which they brought on purpose to rats cockroaches
00:08:34and that doesn lethal diseases which they brought to an advert in lady the collision between strands of humanity separated for tens of thousands of years was dramatic enough but it incurred a far more disruptive collision between strands of biology separated for tens of millions of years quote newspapers
00:08:56usually describe globalization in purely economic terms but it is also a biological phenomenon indeed from a long term perspective it may be primarily a biological phenomenon after fourteen ninety two the world's ecosystems collided and mixed as European vessels carry thousands of species to new homes across the oceans
00:09:18the Columbian exchange is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy oranges in the United States chocolates in Switzerland and chili peppers in Thailand to ecologists the Columbian exchange is arguably the most important event since the death of the dinosaurs end quote with the ecological stakes so high it's
00:09:41little wonder that Europeans had no idea they were pushing the initial domino as it were of historical chain that would reshape the planet but they did push that domino on purpose in the first place and a tremendous personal risk and expense why before Columbus's voyage the eastern and
00:10:02western hemispheres were entirely cut off from each other and like China and Europe prior to Genghis Khan practically no one on either side of the earth knew of the other side's existence after Genghis Khan's imperial conquests across the eastern hemisphere in the twelve hundreds the civilizations and ecology's
00:10:23there were connected and the leading up to Columbus's voyage Europe was tantalized by the trickle of trade goods that filtered through Islamic merchants from China Europe was awakened to the stark reality that it was poor and primitive compared to China and once connected Europe's appetite for Chinese silk
00:10:46spices porcelain and other novelties was like the appetite of a child discovering sugar only increasing as it circled and leaving Europeans high on a rush of commercial speculation at the same time Christian Europeans considered the Islamic merchants from whom they were forced to buy Chinese goods as nothing
00:11:07more than here radical middle man they lower the to doing business with Moslems almost as much as they resented the extortionate prices Muslims could charge as long as they monopolize Chinese overland to trade for two hundred years this grievance percolated driving Europeans to desperate measures in search of
00:11:29alternative ways of tapping Asian commerce the Portuguese took an early lead outfitting ever more advanced vessels to sail ever farther down the west coast of Africa in search of a sea route east by fourteen forty five they reached the coast of Senegal on Africa's western most land ball
00:11:49which a year later they were skirting Sierra Leone and by the fourteen seventies the Portuguese word dipping into the southern hemisphere only in fourteen eighty eight barely for years before Columbus would reach America did the Portuguese succeed in rounding the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip
00:12:07of Africa and finally headed east toward China but by then Columbus was already preparing to head west in an attempt to leapfrog past the Portuguese and secure European monopoly on Chinese trade for Spain contrary to a stubborn historical myth everyone knew the world was round and Columbus's day
00:12:29and it wasn't the allure of Chinese goods only that entice the Spanish monarchy to fund Columbus's westward scheme as Charles man documents Columbus ultimately convinced queen Isabel and King Ferdinand to back him by highlighting that quote trade with China would pour so much money into Spain that in
00:12:50three years the monarchs would be able to set about preparing for the conquest of the holy land end quote above everything else then Columbus's trip was an attempt to circumvent and financially over power the Islamic world by securing Europe's direct access to the riches of China once and
00:13:10for all and long after he and those who followed him and countered the unknown contents of north and South America that stood in their way Europeans continued to reach for China perennially assuming its harbors were awaiting them just around the river band right through the founding of the
00:13:29Jamestown colony of Virginia by the English in sixteen oh seven tapping the resources of the Americas was never the focus of Europe's plan nor were the countless other consequences of their ignorance of this other half of the world nearly a century passed after Columbus's landfall in Hispaniola in
00:13:49the carribean before any Europeans actually accomplish the goal of establishing oceanic trade with China in the mean time however the Columbian exchange the Columbus had unknowingly set into motion radically altered the ecology of the western hemisphere wiped out tens of millions of native Americans and caused a two
00:14:12hundred year long cold snap across the world that scientists have come to identify as the little ice age as man clarifies the connections between this otherwise baffling cascade of consequences he reiterates that quote creatures the colonists knew nothing about hitch hiked along for the ride earthworms mosquitoes cockroaches
00:14:36honey bees dandelions and African grasses racks of every description all of them poured from the holes of Columbus's vessels and those that followed rushing like eager tourists into lands that had never seen there like before natives and newcomers interacted in unexpected ways creating biological Bedlam end quote the
00:15:01tsunami of invasive species that crashed upon the shores of the Americas was disruptive enough but the biggest consequence of the Columbian exchange came with the smallest of the European hitchhikers quote before Columbus none of the epidemic diseases common in Europe and Asia had existed in the Americas shipped
00:15:23across the ocean from Europe these maladies consumed Hispaniola's native population with stunning rapacity through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries novel micro organisms spread across the Americas ricocheting from victim to victim killing three quarters or more of the people in the hemisphere it was as if the suffering these
00:15:45diseases had caused in Eurasia over the past millennia were concentrated into the span of decades end quote native American civilizations from the Andes of South America to the Mississippi valley of North America had been home to some of the most populous societies in the world prior to the
00:16:07Columbian exchange and contrary to modern fantasies that native Americans lived primitively in a pristine wilderness in fact they sustain their massive populations by massively re engineering nature one of their principle tactics was to set forest fires for thousands of years native American societies from California to Maine regularly
00:16:32burned thousands of square miles to clear land for farming drive out insects and sweep away under growth converting vast stretches of otherwise dense scrubby forest into open park land lush with tender growth that attracted wild game for hunting forest fires were like nature shower and native Americans clean
00:16:55to their continents with flames on a scale far larger than any forest fire we worry about today prior to Europeans arrival much of the eastern half of the future United States for example was wide open park land a game hunters paradise dotted here and there with large shade
00:17:14giving trees and carpeted with soft verdant grasses man provides an excellent historical map of this in his book which he created with the help of the National Geographic society after European contact all of this changed in the biological blink of an eye triggering an environmental transformation so dramatic
00:17:37that it affected whether all over the world as man puts it quote enter now the Columbian exchange Eurasian bacteria viruses and parasites sweep through the Americas killing huge numbers of people and unraveling the millennia old network of human in in flames subside to embers across the western hemisphere
00:17:59and Indian torches are steeled indigenous pyromania had long pumped carbon dioxide into the air now the pump suddenly grows feeble formerly open grasslands fill with forest a frenzy of photosynthesis forests regenerate to cross walls of North America meso America the Andes and Amazonia the destruction of native American
00:18:24societies by European epidemics both decreased native burning and increased tree growth each subtracted carbon dioxide from the air end quote a frenzy of photosynthesis indeed it was like the earth suddenly took a huge breath sucking billions of tons of CO two out of the atmosphere and infusing its
00:18:50carbon into billions of new trees that rush to fill the gaps scientists and historians have long known that between the fourteen hundreds and the seventeen hundreds global temperatures dipped way below normal creating a veritable mini ice age that allowed children to ice skate on the Thames river in
00:19:08London and along the canals of Amsterdam heaved a new glaciers on the farms in Switzerland and doomed to the nascent nor settlement of Greenland as man documents a consensus is now growing that European contact which cost upwards of ninety percent of native Americans to die from disease which
00:19:30caused the ancient regimen of American forest fires to end caused the little ice age in just over a century between fifteen fifty and sixteen fifty the eastern seaboard of the United States metamorphosis sized from a park land of scattered trees to a forest so dense that English colonists
00:19:52in the seventeen hundreds joked that a squirrel could travel from Maine to Florida without ever touching the ground Europeans just assumed that the dark impenetrable forest today encountered in America was primeval ancient a timeless wilderness in fact it was brand new the reason to ruins of something ancient
00:20:17the death of so many native Americans the transformation of the ecology of the western hemisphere the little ice age these were facets of the Columbian exchange that Europeans could not understand and did not control they represent the accidents of history that favored some in this case the Europeans
00:20:38who colonized the Americas and it caused others to suffer principally the native Americans but a part of the Columbian exchange that Europeans did mostly understand and control was the extraction and cultivation of new resources in the Americas and more significantly their integration into a new global system of
00:21:00trade and this in turn enabled Europe to transition from being one of the poorest to one of the richest regions of the world quote nothing like this worldwide exchange had existed before still less sprung up so quickly or functioned so continuously no previous trade networks included both of
00:21:22the globe's two hemispheres nor had they operated on a scale large enough to disrupt societies on opposite sides of the planet end quote as always man reminds us China was a key player in many Europeans strategy after Spanish conquistadors had brutally subdued and looted the Aztec in in
00:21:44can civilizations of central and South America in the early fifteen hundreds Spanish prospectors canvas to the countryside for more precious metals to ship abroad in fifteen forty five men surmised they quote discovered something as close to a mountain of silver as geology allow us to see in southern
00:22:05Bolivia an absolutely enormous silver strike by far the largest one in history that roughly double the supply of silver in the world in the course of a hundred years end quote by the early sixteen hundreds potency a once remote mountain village isolated at some fifteen thousand feet above
00:22:26sea level became the biggest boom town in the world the Spanish monarchy which seemed always to be at war with everyone demanded that the deluge of silver from potencies mines flow directly to Spain in order to pay for all of its wars and finance it's chronic debts to
00:22:46move one hundred and fifty thousand tons of silver historians rough estimate for the amount extracted through potencies heyday from the mountains of western South America to Spanish ships in the Atlantic thousands of llamas and mules bore two or three in gets of silver at a time weighing sixty
00:23:07pounds a piece hundreds of miles down the mountains to the Pacific coast where ships were loaded nearly two submersion to sail the silver north to Panama there mules took up the glistening cargo once again too carried across the isthmus to Spanish ports on the carribean coast where the
00:23:26main Spanish treasure fleet to waited that was how things were supposed to go but a big fraction man estimates up to half of south American silver never crossed to the Atlantic side at all instead it was diverted across the Pacific Ocean to China were Spanish rogues found far
00:23:47greater profits on offer by the fifteen seventies Spanish smugglers had set up a thriving trading post with China in modern day Manila in the Philippines although technically illicit silver sales to China represented a huge commercial break through for Europeans from whom the Chinese had previously been on interested
00:24:10in buying anything the Chinese consider their products superior to those of Europe virtually across the board and we wouldn't blame them the most common item Europeans had attempted to sell was wool suitable for Chile Europe perhaps but an itchy nuisance in warmer China were far more comfortable textile
00:24:31abounded silk with silver on the other hand man writes quote Spain finally had something China wanted badly wanted in fact Spanish silver literally became China's money supply end quote within a decade of the first load of Spanish silver reaching Manila China was dispatching at least twenty large merchant
00:24:56ships a year to meet them and **** up as much silver as possible Europeans long dismissed by China suddenly found themselves showered with the best Asian goods available quote Chinese merchants crammed aboard ship with every imaginable commodity silk and porcelain of course but also cotton ironed sugar flour
00:25:20chestnuts oranges live poultry jam ivory gems gun powder lacquerware tables and chairs cattle and horses and whatever else the Chinese thought Europeans might want end quote silver was the great catalyst of the Columbian exchange global trade was super charged and European economies now with the center of a
00:25:44new age of international commerce blossomed with the most diverse spectrum of goods in the world moreover once the commercial door to China had been opened Europeans soon managed to sell as many goods to China as they purchased especially new kinds of foods from their colonies like why is
00:26:06affected by the little ice age China's weather patterns in the late fifteen hundreds and early sixteen hundreds changed punishing some of its most productive farmland with record cold and rain fall thousands of acres of rice paddies washed away and quote famine shadow the reins poor Chinese families were
00:26:28reduced to eating bark grass and insects and quote intermittent famine had plagued China for centuries but the chronic crop disasters of the fifteen and sixteen hundreds caused by the climate shift compelled Chinese culture to finally open itself up to new foods imported from abroad especially those native to
00:26:51the Americas quote from this perspective the Columbian exchange was a boon and China race to to embrace it no large group of the human race in the Old World was quicker to adopt American food plants than the Chinese sweet potatoes maize peanuts tobacco chili peppers pineapple cashew manioc
00:27:14all poured into China end quote sweet potatoes from the Andes mountains in South America forest on Chinese land previously assumed barren and China transitioned from starving to supporting probably the largest population explosion in history as man reports historians estimate that China's population had grown slowly for centuries reaching
00:27:42about a hundred and fifty million by sixteen hundred but with the spread of sweet potatoes it doubled to three hundred million by the end of the seventeen hundreds the initial boon however was relatively short lived and soon overshadowed by dire environmental consequences which persist to this day since
00:28:06a sweet potatoes could be grown across vast stretches of China's dry uplands millions of new farmers moved into these formerly vacant areas and began clear cutting trees to support intensive crop cultivation it was a shock to China's environments without precedent and dealt a blow to the ancient empire
00:28:28serious enough to tilt to the entire balance of world power westward quote the result was a wave of deforestation followed by waves of erosion and floods which caused many deaths the Chinese regime already straining under many problems was further destabilized to Europe's benefit end quote China had originally
00:28:54embrace to the Columbian exchange in order to preserve its unrivaled historical might but unlike the relatively small but nimble European states that greatly benefited from the opening of the world the sudden influx of foreign influence destabilized China's massive political weight leaving it teetering for centuries to come thereafter
00:29:19there were no world powers big enough to check European expansion on the other side of the world meanwhile the Columbian exchange continue to favor the growth of European power and influence man's account of these developments is densely detailed the book is seven hundred and twenty pages long after
00:29:40all but the history of one commodity in particular tobacco characterizes the interconnected forces of exchange over which Europeans had only limited awareness or control sometime in the mid sixteen teens English colonists in the ragged settlement of Jamestown Virginia imported tobacco from Spanish colonies in South America in a
00:30:05desperate attempt to salvage their situation from its founding in sixteen oh seven James town had existed on the brink of annihilation but the Virginia company kept sinking huge amounts of money and people into the venture in hopes of turning a profit once the initial goal of establishing for
00:30:25England an economical sea route to China failed the colony experimented with dozens of other ventures from wine making and shipbuilding to solve panning and glass blowing man documents that more than a hundred shiploads of colonists and supplies were sent to Jamestown within its first two decades and that
00:30:45quote year after year most of the would be settlers parished within weeks or months out of some seven thousand people sent to Virginia between sixteen oh seven and sixteen twenty four eight out of ten died end quote but then Virginians tried their hand at cultivating tobacco and everything
00:31:08changed tobacco exports enabled the Virginia company to finance its huge debts and by the late sixteen twenties tobacco was making the Jamestown colony profitable my sixteen sixty the Chesapeake Bay was earning a worldwide reputation as the tobacco coast shipping twenty five million pounds of dried tobacco overseas to
00:31:32Europe each year Europeans and the Chinese alike couldn't get enough of the addictive plant and tobacco farmers in the New World we're growing rich more than anything else tobacco initiated American immigration quote new comers poured in grab some land and planted tobacco they English transformed to the landscape
00:31:56into something unrecognizable tobacco from South America was far from the only biological import the English brought along all the other species they were accustomed to finding on their farms back in Europe pigs goats cattle horses it became harder and harder for surviving native Americans to prosper there meanwhile
00:32:18it was easier and easier for Europeans to thrive in an environment that their own actions were making increasingly familiar end quote one thing about the region of the future United States south of the Mason Dixon line where tobacco and other labor intensive crops grew bast that ones and
00:32:38so familiar to Europeans however was the relatively warm whacked climate and there once all the tobacco growing attracted a critical mass of immigrants an ancient parasites of the Old World found a bountiful home in the new quote tobacco braucht malaria to Virginia indirectly bought in a locked up
00:33:02play and from there it spread until much of North America was in its grip end quote the cascade of consequences continued with such intense tobacco demand European farmers grew desperate for labor to cultivate cotton cure the plant and initially they imported indentured European servants usually young men from
00:33:27poor families in England whose passage to America and initial settlement were financed in exchange for seven years of farm work north of the Mason Dixon line this arrangement worked well enough but south of it where warmer weather made malaria thrive that economic arrangement failed after paying for their
00:33:50passage southern tobacco farmers found that too many of their European labors were falling ill and dying from the disease in fact of all the people swept up in the Columbian exchange the only ones who seemed largely immune from the plague were Africans being sold into slavery in contrast
00:34:13to to Europeans man describes African kings had for centuries tended to view labor rather than land as their most valuable source of wealth and the rival African kingdoms had established profitable traditions of capturing their enemies and selling them as slaves to merchants operating throughout the Indian Ocean and
00:34:36the Middle East slavery thrived through the medieval and early modern era in these regions while in Europe most people shun slavery as an uneconomical if not immoral system in the context of the Columbian exchange however malaria changed their minds quote inherited malaria resistance occurs in many parts of
00:35:00the world but the peoples of west and central Africa have more than anyone else and are less susceptible to malaria than anyone else on earth about ninety seven percent of the people in west and central Africa or immune to malaria slavery and malaria thrived together end quote this
00:35:22is where biology enters history man emphasizes it's impossible to say whether or not America's darkest moral stain would have ever said in absence malaria and other diseases like yellow fever to which Africans were resilient but man makes it clear that Africans immunological superiority was the biggest contributing factor
00:35:47looking at another revealing map that man provides there is indeed a clear historical correlation between the geographical prevalence of the disease is to which Africans were immune and the regions of their enslavement both scourges occupied zone between the Mason Dixon line in North America and the southern border
00:36:08of Brazil in South America after humming along mostly as a regional affair for centuries African slavery was in large part pulled into the wider world by the parasites that flowed through the Columbian exchange given the overwhelming calamity of slavery it's easy to understand why so many people have
00:36:32condemned the Columbian exchange as a net historical negative its legacy of globalism like wires appears to many people around the world today as an unwelcome albeit far less brutal form of commercial oppression fourteen ninety three does not so much contradict these moral instincts as complicates the culpability of
00:36:56globalization's pioneers and given how vast and interconnected the Columbian exchange proved to be it's tragic consequences are at least somewhat counterbalanced by man's copious documentation of its fruits he shows how the Columbian exchange also introduced potatoes into Europe in the sixteen hundreds saving millions of people there from
00:37:20famine and malnourishment how it later international merchants to discover mountains of one now nitrogen rich bird excrement on islands off the coast of Peru which they harvested by the ton and exported across the world as high intensity fertilizer to revolutionize global food production how the Columbian exchange introduced
00:37:41Europeans to rubber one of the critical inputs for the industrial revolution and how it connected malaria doctors across the Atlantic with anti malarial quinine from cinchona trees in the Andes the list goes on on covering the New World Columbus created is a monumental task even for a mind
00:38:02as multi disciplinary as man's the Columbian exchange created but by no means controlled by Europeans catapulted Europe from poverty to power by placing it at the center of modern globalization and as catastrophic and oppressive as the emergence system proved to be it also liberated hundreds of millions of
00:38:25people around the world from the ancient grip of provincial privation societies that opened themselves to the potential of global exchange occasionally suffered as a result but those the close themselves off from it almost always did as man admits quote it is unsettling to think of globalization's long record
00:38:48of ecological convulsion and to the suffering and the political mayhem caused by that convulsion but there is grand juror to in this view of our past it reminds us that every place has played a part in the human story and that all are embedded in the larger in
00:39:06conceivably complex progress of life on this planet end quote amid the complexity of interacting historical forces Charles man elucidates in fourteen ninety three one force in particular seems so significant as to demand to deeper consideration it played a central role to in Jared diamond's book guns germs and
00:39:32steel and of all the historical challenges that have undermined humanity's control over its own fate disease must be at the top of the list the history of disease is gruesome but its revelations of humanity's resilience are also deeply fascinating next time on context will dive into the renowned
00:39:58historian William McNeil's ground breaking classic on the subject plagues and people's I'm Brent Harris so long

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