Which two countries were affected the most economically and demographic by the potato in the Columbian Exchange?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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According to  Steven J. Crouthamel, Professor and  Chair of American Indian and American Studies of Palomar College, the Columbian Exchange is a concept that arose out of collaborative academic negotiation in preparation for the "Quincentennial of Columbus' voyage to the Americas." The issue of how to celebrate arose because of the concerns and protests resounding from within Native American communities. The Columbian Exchange was developed as a way to look at both the good and harmful effects on the Americas and the world of Columbus' voyage. One of the top five academically agreed upon biological and cultural impacts was the potato exchange.

According to the The Atlantic World resource for understanding the Columbian Exchange, aside from corn, the most significant food exchanged from the Americas to Europe and Asia was the potato (The Atlantic World includes the sweet potato introduced in Asia). The potato, grown at high freezing altitudes by the Quechua people of the Andes, was well adapted for cultivation in the northern climes and overworked soils of Europe. Most notably, life in Ireland was altered by the potato cultivation. Similarly, life was as dramatically changed in China by the introduction of the sweet potato. Academicians regret that more varieties of the potato were not exchanged because, as Crouthamel says, there were Peruvian varieties that were disease resistant.

The introduction of the potato--and sweet potato--had affects of great magnitude on economic and demographic concerns. Firstly, a new agricultural industry was introduced, which led to greater economic opportunity along with accumulation of wealth for people in the lower classes. Secondly, as pointed out by Crouthamel, people in countries like Ireland, Poland, Holland, Germany, as well as China (The Atlantic Monthly) had a new food source high in vitamins and minerals. This seemingly trivial addition to the food supply kept many from outright starvation, as Crouthamel points out, and strengthened the lower classes physically, which led in Europe to the development of a viable labor force for the start of the later industrial revolution.

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