Uncovering the New World Columbus Created
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Although it had just finished raining, the air was hot and close. Nobody else was in sight; the only sound other than those from insects and gulls was the staticky low crashing of Caribbean waves. Around me on the sparsely covered red soil was a scatter of rectangles laid out by lines of stones: the outlines of now- vanished buildings, revealed by archaeologists. Cement pathways, steaming faintly from the rain, ran between them. One of the buildings had more imposing walls than the others. The researchers had covered it with a new roof, the only structure they had chosen to protect from the rain. Standing like a sentry by its entrance was a hand- lettered sign: Casa Almirante, Admiral’s House. It marked the first American residence of Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea, the man whom generations of schoolchildren have learned to call the discoverer of the New World.
La Isabela, as this community was called, is situated on the north side of the great Caribbean island of Hispaniola, in what is now the Dominican Republic. It was the initial attempt by Europeans to make a permanent base in the Americas. (To be precise, La Isabela marked the beginning of consequential European settlement—Vikings had established a short-lived village in Newfoundland five centuries before.) The admiral laid out his new domain at the confluence of two small, fast- rushing rivers: a fortified center on the north bank, a satellite community of farms on the south bank. For his home, Columbus—Cristóbal Colón, to give him the name he answered to at the time—chose the best location in town: a rocky promontory in the northern settlement, right at the water’s edge. His house was situated perfectly to catch the afternoon light.
Today La Isabela is almost forgotten. Sometimes a similar fate appears to threaten its founder. Colón is by no means absent from history textbooks, of course, but in them he seems ever less admirable and important. He was a cruel, deluded man, today’s critics say, who stumbled upon the Caribbean by luck. An agent of imperialism, he was in every way a calamity for the Americas’ first inhabitants. Yet a different but equally contemporary perspective suggests that we should continue to take notice of the admiral.
Excerpted from 1493 by Charles C. Mann. Copyright © 2011 by Charles C. Mann. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Christopher Columbus has long been credited with discovering the New World. According to contemporary scientists, Columbus didn’t discover a new world as much as create one. His voyages brought a plethora of species together, enabling the extraordinary exchange of plants and animals between Eurasia and the Americas. Some of these species were ferried by the ships that sailed across the Atlantic intentionally, others accidentally. The exchange took corn to Africa and sweet potatoes to Asia, horses and apples to the Americas and rhubarb and eucalyptus to Europe. Less familiar organisms like insects, grasses, bacteria and viruses were also exchanged.
Columbus’ landing in the New World marked the beginning of what scientists dubbed the “Columbus Exchange.” As 1493 reveals, this geological tumult underlies much of subsequent human history. Presenting the latest generation of research by scientists, Charles Mann shows how the creation of a worldwide network of exchange fostered the rise of Europe, devastated imperial China, convulsed Africa, and for two centuries made Manila and Mexico City—where Asia, Europe and the new frontier of the Americas dramatically interacted—the center of the world.
Columbus and others had tried and failed to sail west to establish trade with China, then the richest, most powerful country in the world. It was not until 1571 that Spaniard Miguel López de Legazpi accomplished that feat. That same year, he founded Manila. There, silver from the Americas was mined by African and Indian slaves and sold to Asians in exchange for silk for Europeans. It was the first time that goods and people from every corner of the globe were connected in a single worldwide exchange. Much like Columbus created a new world biologically, Legazpi and the Spanish empire he served created a new world economically.
Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, is an early example of a purely economic venture. Mann shows how the colony’s fate was largely determined by the introduction of tobacco. He goes on to examine the roles the Columbus Exchange occupied in the agricultural revolution and later in the Industrial Revolution. He also looks at the most consequential and controversial exchange of all: the slave trade.
The economic drive for exchange ended up transforming the globe into a single ecological zone by the 19th century. The creation of this ecological zone helped Europe seize, for several vital centuries, the political initiative, which in turn shaped today’s world-spanning economic system. Enlightening and impeccably researched, 1493 illuminates the most important biological event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs.
Hardcover Book : 560 pages
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc./Random House ( August 09, 2011 )
Item #: 13-385697
Product Dimensions: 6.25 x 9.25 x 1.4inches
Product Weight: 34.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)