Friday, May 20, 2011

The Columbian Exchange and the Disease Frontier




The Columbian Exchange is a term coined by ecologist and historian Alfred Crosby to describe the profound transformation of both sides of the Atlantic when species of all sorts started traveling around in the Era of Exploration. Before European exploration had began, regions had been remote from one another. Particles and other wind-borne things could travel or would be carried by birds, but at a very slow exchange rate prior to European travel by ships.


The Disease Frontier

Pathogens reproduce themselves every 20 seconds and because of this, there were many epidemics during this era. Death rates were between 20-30% at first contact on the virgin soil, mostly killing people in their prime years (early to mid-20s) first. The next pass killed young children and pregnant women. Opportunistic infections, followed by weakened immune systems, were made worse by crowded conditions or densely populated areas. Collateral damage included the curtailing of reproduction, social disintegration, and political turmoil. There was up to 98% population reduction of the native people and the Europeans who traversed into the New World over a 100-year period, which at the same time also served as an unintentional advance force paving the way for European entry and the spread of buffalo and deer, which were being hunted as food sources.

Implications?
~No place is pristine
~Columbian Exchange has a lopsidedly negative effect on North American indigenous populations
~Within 100 years, North America becomes more like Europe (non-European), creating many "widowed" areas
~Rapid changes effect everyone
~BUT Europeans have some advantages in settlement

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