Biological Exchanges in World History

J. R. McNeill

in The Oxford Handbook of World History

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199235810
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

Biological Exchanges in World History


One important way in which people have altered environments, and thereby altered their own ecological contexts and their own history, is through biological exchange. Biological exchange can refer to any number of things. In this article, it means above all else the long-distance transfers of crops, domesticated animals, and disease-causing microbes, or pathogens. This choice is intended to emphasize biological exchanges that carried the greatest and most direct historical significance. The article aims to explore the role of the most important biological exchanges for human history. Biological exchange was sometimes carried out intentionally and sometimes accidentally. Faster and more frequent transport and travel continue to promote biological exchange. The long-term process of biological globalization continues, and will inevitably continue. In biological history, four or five centuries is the merest flash. In the long run, strange and unforeseen things will happen.

Keywords: domestication; biological exchange; agrarian society; biological globalization; human history; biological history

Article.  8590 words. 

Subjects: History

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