(Re)Mapping the Columbian Exchange: Suggestions for an Updated Cartography - Figures
Following Christopher Columbus’ voyages to the Caribbean and South America in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, and the ensuing colonization of the New World by Europeans, a massive multidirectional transfer of biota, diseases, technology and humans occurred between Afro-Eurasia and the Americas. This transfer, known as the Columbian Exchange, is often depicted on maps as a simplified, bidirectional, Atlantic-centred, historically unprecedented transaction between the Americas and Europe. By examining a specific, oft-used map of the Exchange, this paper highlights the shortcoming of these misleading depictions and posits that, in their distortions, they impede the effective teaching of the era’s history. Concretely, we present five short life histories of important Columbian Exchange products – sweet potatoes, sugarcane, maize, tomatoes and quinine – and use them to illustrate the major cartographic and ideological problems of traditional Columbian Exchange maps. These problems include overly constrained geographic scope, chronological compression, non-depiction of the contemporaneous movement of important cultural, technological and biological elements of each product, ethnocentrism and the obscuring of human consequences. Each of our product biographies is accompanied by a new map of the product’s diffusion, one that is a template for future (re)mappings of the Columbian Exchange.
Figures to: Maya Bhagat, Zachary Nowak, Adam Spitzig, Kari Roynesdal, ‘(Re)Mapping the Columbian Exchange. Suggestions for an Updated Cartography’, Food & History, 20:2 (Turnhout: Brepols, 2022), 59–86