Charles C. Mann

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Can you provide an unbiased summary of an excerpt from 1493, including all major details?

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First, it is important to note two things. Charles Mann did not invent the term Columbian Exchange. Alfred Crosby did so in the early 1970s. Mann takes Crosby's argument of an exchange—often involuntary and devastating—of peoples, plants, animals, microbes, precious metals, and ideas across the Atlantic and goes further to argue that Columbus began the process of destructive globalization that continues to this day, mostly for the worse.

The second important point is to not repeat the falsehoods of Columbus "discovering" America or as a founder. The Americas were and are the homeland to at least 2000 distinct peoples made up of 100 to 140 million American Indians. Australian Aboriginals, Polynesians, and Vikings all migrated to the Americas long before Columbus, their presence widely accepted by scholars. Trade between Polynesians and Natives did see some exchanges of plants, animals, and technology, but not on the scale of European invasions.

Mann's arguments are largely well done. Where Crosby presented exchange as something passive, inevitable, and almost preordained, Mann shows how these types of forced exchanges still continue today and can be devastating. What is puzzling and what many scholars criticized is Mann's large omission of discussing the slave trade of both Natives and Africans.

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Your assignment is quite an undertaking!  Obviously, you are being asked not to comment on the quality of the work (and especially not how you FEEL about the work) but to simply summarize the work while making sure to reveal the main point.  Put simply, this book is about the result of what is called the "Columbian Exchange" which begins with Columbus discovering America and reveals how this event affected the world.  What follows is an expansion of this main idea.

First, it's fairly important to reveal the full title of the work which is 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created.  This goes a long way to simply revealing what the work is about.  Before Columbus participated in exploration, there were (quite frankly) two parts of the world that had different animals and peoples and plants and insects and illnesses, etc.  It was Columbus' "sailing the ocean blue" that united these two parts of the world.  It allowed both animals and plants to be shared between America and what was then Eurasia for the very first time.  That idea is precisely what Mann called the "Columbian Exchange."  Further, he attests that this exchange is imperative to further human history.

What is interesting about Mann's work is that he uses scientific research to back up his arguments.  As a result, Mann reveals how Europe grew to power, how ancient China lost its power, how Africa lost its unanimity, and how Manila/Mexico became vastly important because of the interactions that took place there. 

This book is continually revealed as a "scientific interpretation" and reads like an adventure novel.  In short, Mann reveals how this "Columbian Exchange" is the precursor to the "rise of the West" and how the East lost its appeal as a result.  The interesting scientific approach reveals that almost nothing used and consumed here originated here.

There's absolutely nothing in my garden that originated within 1,000 miles of my house. ... Tomatoes originated in Mexico. Basil came from Italy. Onions came from Europe. I live in Massachusetts. There's absolutely nothing in there from New England.

Another interesting scientific fact is that this Columbian Exchange caused a significant disaster due to illness.  Remember that Europe gave rise to horrible sicknesses such as the plague that caused huge masses to be wiped out.  Mann attests that all of these horrible issues were put on overdrive when Columbus arrived.  It ended up having the same result: killing the masses.

When the Europeans came over, it was as if all the deaths over the millennium caused by these diseases were compressed into 150 years in the Americas. The result was to wipe out between two-thirds and 90 percent of the people in the Americas. It was the worst demographic disaster in history.

Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that Americans didn't even realize the impact until later in the last century.  Further, critics of the book talk about the glaring omission of slavery from the Americas.  Slavery, of course, was so common at the time that the lack of mention is almost seen as a bias.  Perhaps this omission is one of the reasons why your assignment is worded in such a way.

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