Science writer Charles Mann looks at Columbus’s “discovery” of America through the unique lens of biology and epidemiology. The author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created uncovers a Pre-Columbian world that was far from the untouched wilderness of history books. Native Americans shaped and farmed the land much more than you probably thought.
The impact of Europeans on this new world is also not what you think. Yes, the Spanish and English and French brought diseases that decimated the native population, but, inadvertently, they also caused a massive reforestation, which led to a mini ice age.
Mann also draws a fascinating connection between malaria and slavery. Early in American history, white indentured servants were bought over from Europe to supply much-needed labor to a growing economy. Why, Mann asks, did this perfectly adequate system morph into slavery? Because of malaria. Europeans were much more susceptible to the disease, which flourished in hot and humid areas, roughly below the Mason-Dixon line. But Africans were not.
Jump to 33:17:
Image courtesy of dr_relling