The Columbian Exchange

Rebecca Earle

in The Oxford Handbook of Food History

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199729937
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Columbian Exchange


The Columbian Exchange refers to the flow of plants, animals and microbes across the Atlantic Ocean and beyond. Coined in 1972 by the historian Alfred Crosby, the Columbian Exchange set in motion Christopher Columbus' historic voyage to the Americas in 1492. Crosby used the term "Columbian Exchange" to describe the process of biological diffusion that arose following Europe's colonization of the Americas. Crosby's The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492 chronicled the wide-ranging consequences of the transfer of diseases, plants and animals that ensued after 1492. The book, essentially consisting of a series of interlocking essays, documented the impact of Old World plants and animals on the Americas, the global dissemination of New World foods, and how European colonization resulted in the transmission of pathogens. Crosby made forceful arguments to support his claim that the most significant consequences of European colonization of the new world were biological in nature.

Keywords: Columbian Exchange; Alfred Crosby; biological diffusion; colonization; Americas; diseases; plants; animals; foods; Europe

Article.  8412 words. 

Subjects: History ; World History

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