We are getting ready to “celebrate ?” Columbus Day.
Most people have not been lucky enough to get a good perspective on what happened when the two worlds met. I was a teacher learner at the Smithsonian when the Quincentennial happened and in planning, they dug deeply into history that few of us were taught. Teachers in the Metropolitan DC area were involved in the workshops and the planning. We worked with Julie Margolis.
The main book we used to form ideas was “The Columbian Exchange:Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. We had lots of other books, and activities and even a garden that was on the museum grounds and on the grounds of a school.(http://www.jstor.org/stable/3742188?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents) Some of the research papers we studied were included in the book that became the exhibit handbook..
Dr. Herman J. Viola , a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History also gave us several workshops. He , a specialist on the history of the American West, served as director of the Museum’s National Anthropological Archives in addition to organizing two major exhibitions for the Smithsonian. “Magnificent Voyagers” told the story of the United State Exploring Expedition of 1838-42, and “Seeds of Change” exhibit which we are referencing here, he examined the exchange of plants, animals, and diseases between the Old and the New Worlds as a result of the Christopher Columbus voyages of discovery.
Columbus, we are told, was no heroic “discoverer” of a New World; as some now see it, he was a villain who pillaged and polluted another old one. At the very least, some say this was not a “discovery.” The approved word for the year of 1992 was “encounter.” There is a whole other discussion on the origins of the maps and the history of map making.
Also, strike the term “celebration.” Many Native Americans viewed the Columbus Quincentenary as more properly an occasion to mourn the destruction of their civilizations. The golden mean, that was taught by the Smithsonian Institution, was the neutral idea of “commemoration.”
The Smithsonian’s “Seeds of Change” exhibition was a marker to think differently about the two world coming together in – the largest ever mounted display by the National Museum of Natural History – it did not focus on Columbus himself, although it refers to his voyages and contained quotations from his journals.
Here is a different take on what Columbus was looking for. Can you say spices?
Do you know that this is a different way of thinking about why Columbus went to the “Indies”
The theme of the “Seeds of Change” at the Smithsonian was the biological and cultural exchanges that transformed two old worlds into one new one – a popularization of ideas introduced two decades ago by historian Alfred W. Crosby Jr. in his book.
There is a darker view of Columbus , presented here..http://www.understandingprejudice.org/nativeiq/weather.htm Everyone does not agree about the cultural exchange and encounter.
Elements of Change
Often discussed were the horse, tomato, potato, corn and disease. ( tobacco was not mentioned, Slavery was inserted).
The five ``seeds`` that Columbus sowed on both sides of the Atlantic with his voyages to the new world that were presented were sugar, corn, the potato, disease and the horse, Margolis told us.
“The transfer of these items changed the world,“ Corn, for example, was unknown to Columbus and the rest of the world.
In 1493, when corn was first exported to Europe, people there fed it to livestock, thinking it unfit for human consumption. But by 1700, corn became a staple, especially in Africa, where it contributed to a population growth that in turn fed the slave trade to America. Think sugar cane, rum, and the triangle of slavery.
The horse, too was depicted, as a seed of change when the Spanish used it to conquer the Americas. Horses roamed America in prehistoric times, but were killed off during the Ice Age; Columbus reintroduced them to the New World, to which they were well adapted.Horses, for example, are depicted as having increased Indian wealth and leisure time, while inspiring an array of crafts and clothing. But their use by Indian societies also is said by some to have promoted contact, competition and warfare among tribes.
.The Tomato http://www.tomato-cages.com/tomato-history.html
Margolis pointed out to us that Italian cuisine with its tomato sauces could not have come into being without the American tomato brought back to Europe by Columbus. A 6- by 8-foot sculpture was in the exhibit, “Spaghetti Meets Tomato,“ by artist Roark Gourley of Laguna Beach, Calif., shows a whimsical, climbing tomato plant towering over a red-and-white checked tablecloth and an array of common Italian-American dishes.“`Spaghetti Meets Tomato
“I had tried different things, none of which I liked,” Gourley said. “I had a food fight between Columbus and a kid that didn’t work out. I kept tinkering with it until the idea of spaghetti and tomato, which is so simple, hit me.”The finished piece looked to be constructed entirely of food, but is deceptively intricate in its design. The spaghetti noodles are made of a resin-glossed clothes line, the cheese of sliced-up rubberbands and rice made of real spaghetti noodles
When we visited we had a list of the foods from the New World and a list of Old World Food.
It was fun to make a menu using only foods from one list.
For other readings that cast a different light on the importance of the Columbian Voyages read this book ” Precious Cargo” The Author says
“The discovery of the Americas was a watershed event for food that forever changed history and triggered unforeseen advances in agriculture, enterprise, and commerce that allowed the development of the modern world. Admittedly, this progress came with horrendous problems, like slavery and the destruction of indigenous societies and species, but I don’t believe it serves any useful purpose to make moral judgments about historical events. The purpose of Precious Cargo, is simply to tell the many stories of how and why western hemisphere foods and crops conquered the rest of the world and saved it from not only culinary boredom, but mass starvation as well”
|The Tomato History has origins traced back to the early Aztecs around 700 A.D; therefore it is believed that the tomato is native to the Americas. It was not until around the 16th century that Europeans were introduced to this fruit when the early explorers set sail to discover new lands. Throughout Southern Europe, the tomato was quickly accepted into the kitchen, yet as it moved north, more resistance was apparent. The British, for example, admired the tomato for its beauty, but believe that it was poisonous, as its appearance was similar to that of the wolf peach.|
Sugar cane is viewed more harshly still. As visitors enter the darkened section devoted to this fifth “seed,” they suddenly find themselves in the simulated hold of a slave ship. Originally brought from Europe, sugar cane grew even better in the Caribbean, where its production for European use stimulated the slave trade and caused the ravaging of the native terrain, the exhibition argues.
From virgin rain forests to sugar cane plantations, a diorama re-creating a slave dwelling and narration of an account of slave life by actress Whoopi Goldberg.
New World Foods: corn, potato, tomato, bell pepper, chili pepper, vanilla, tobacco, beans, pumpkin, cassava root, avocado, peanut, pecan , cashew, pineapple, blueberry, sunflower, petunia, black-eyed susan, dahlia, marigold, quinine, wild rice, cacao (chocolate), gourds, and squash.
Here is an indepth game to play to learn a lot more from the NMAI.
When Christopher Columbus arrived on the Bahamian Island of Guanahani (San Salvador) in 1492, he encountered the Taíno people, whom he described in letters as “naked as the day they were born.” The Taíno had complex hierarchical religious, political, and social systems. Skilled farmers and navigators, they wrote music and poetry and created powerfully expressive objects. At the time of Columbus’s exploration, the Taíno were the most numerous indigenous people of the Caribbean and inhabited what are now Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. By 1550, the Taíno were close to extinction, many having succumbed to diseases brought by the Spaniards. Taíno influences survived, however, and today appear in the beliefs, religions, language, and music of Caribbean cultures.
Had horses really been extinct in the Americas until Christopher Columbus shipped them there on his second voyage? they wanted to know.
And was it true that diseases imported by the explorers and conquistadors had decimated as much as 90 percent of the native population?
And why was tobacco not included I assume that it was not politically correct to tell about it.
TOBACCO: The Early History of a New World Crop
Hail thou inspiring plant! Thou balm of life,
Well might thy worth engage two nations’ strife;
Exhaustless fountain of Britannia’s wealth;
Thou friend of wisdom and thou source of health.
-from an early tobacco label
Tobacco, that outlandish weed
It spends the brain, and spoiles the seede
It dulls the spirite, it dims the sight
It robs a woman of her right.
-Dr. William Vaughn, 1617
As these two verses show, tobacco use has long been a controversial subject, considered by turns a vice, a panacea, an economic salvation and a foolish and dangerous habit. However, it was perceived, by the end of the seventeenth century tobacco had become the economic staple of Virginia, easily making her the wealthiest of the 13 colonies by the time of the American Revolution.
The Old World encountered tobacco at the dawn of the European Age of Exploration. On the morning of October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus set foot on a small island in the Bahamas. Believing himself to be off the coast of Asia, the Admiral dressed in his best to meet the local inhabitants. The Arawaks offered him some dried leaves as a token of friendship. Those leaves were tobacco. A few days later, a party from Columbus’ ship docked off the coast of Cuba and witnessed local peoples there smoking tobacco through Y-shaped tubes which they inserted in their noses, inhaling smoke until they lost consciousness.
Disease– Controversial subject ….
The exhibition’s section on disease included fascinating pre-Columbian sculptures from Peru’s Moche culture, which for some reason (we never learn why) excelled in the depiction of medical deformities. There was a case devoted to the argument that, in an exception from the more common transfer of infections from East to West, syphilis may have been brought back to Europe by Columbus’ crew. No space, however, is allotted to countervailing theories, including the notion that Europeans might at one time have misdiagnosed syphilis as leprosy. Discussions continue about the effects of disease.
European exploration of tropical areas was aided by the New World discovery of quinine, the first effective treatment for malaria. Europeans suffered from this disease, but some indigenous populations had developed at least partial resistance to it. In Africa, resistance to malaria has been associated with other genetic changes among sub-Saharan Africans and their descendants that can cause sickle cell anemia.:164
Before regular communication had been established between the two hemispheres, the varieties of domesticated animals and infectious diseases that jumped to humans, such assmallpox, were strikingly more numerous in the Old World than in the New. Many had migrated west across Eurasia with animals or people, or were brought by traders from Asia, so diseases of two continents were suffered by all occupants. While Europeans and Asians were affected by the Eurasian diseases, their endemic status in those continents over centuries resulted in many people gaining acquired immunity.
By contrast, “Old World” diseases had a devastating effect when introduced to Native American populations via European carriers, as the people in the Americas had no naturalimmunity to the new diseases. Measles caused many deaths. The smallpox epidemics are believed to have caused the largest death tolls among Native Americans, surpassing any wars and far exceeding the comparative loss of life in Europe due to the Black Death.:164 It is estimated that upwards of 80–95 percent of the Native American population died in these epidemics within the first 100–150 years following 1492. Many regions in the Americas lost 100%.:165
Similarly, yellow fever is thought to have been brought to the Americas from Africa via the Atlantic slave trade. Because it was endemic in Africa, many people there had acquired immunity. Europeans suffered higher rates of death than did African-descended persons when exposed to yellow fever in Africa and the Americas, where numerous epidemics swept the colonies beginning in the 17th century and continuing into the late 19th century.
Debate on the origins of syphilis has been raging for centuries. New genetic evidence supports the theory that Christopher Columbus brought syphilis to Europe from the New World. According to the study, genetic analysis of the syphilis family tree reveals that its closest relative was a South American disease that causes yaws, an infection caused by a sub-species of the same bacterium. 
But wait.. there is more.. There was gold, and silver and huge Emeralds… there were ships that took that treasure to Spain. I certainly remember the Emeralds. Probably not as important as the cocoa bean which made chocolate a choice commodity.