An Analysis of the Conquest of Native America in the Columbian Voyages, the Columbian Exchange and Their Historians by Alfred W. Crosby

In his article The Columbian Voyages, the Columbian Exchange, and Their Historians, Alfred W. Crosby seems to think that much of the Columbian voyages and what came out of them was detrimental to many cultures, most of all the Native Americans. Crosby brings up many institutions and ideologies to re-enforce his opinion, such as the slave trade and the conquest of many Native American tribes. One of the major effects of the Columbian exchange was the decimation of the Native American population. Crosby attributes this to many factors, the conquest of the Europeans, the cultural vacuum created by European attempts to Christianize the Amerindians, and the introduction of new and lethal micro-organisms into the ecosystem. More commonly known as viruses, these organisms wreaked havoc with a population that had never been exposed to them previously. Crosby chalks this up as another way the Europeans decimated the population of the Amerindians, but neglected to mention that although the introduction of new viruses and diseases into a culture is devastating, it is an integral part of nature and cannot be avoided.

There are many reasons that disease is a necessary part of an ecosystem. First, and most obvious, is the fact that it is one of natures natural checks. This means that nature, in an attempt to control population and insure a balanced ecosystem, constantly checks itself. Disease is an integral part of these checks, as it cuts down on the population of human beings- an animal that is certainly at the top of the food chain. If human beings had no natural checks, as they have no natural predators in the wild, their population would soar. This in turn would lead to more consumption at the top of the food chain, eliminating the predators to creatures at the lower end of the food chain. This would cause their numbers to rise, which would lead to irreparable damage to the ever-fragile ecosystem.

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Another reason that disease is needed was defined by Thomas Malthus. His concept is called the Malthusian Law, which states that the population will increase geometrically while the food supply will increase arithmetically. This, simply put, means that the population will grow enormously faster than the food supply will. Predictably, this leads to starvation and death. Disease, as a natural check, prevents this from happening. As the population is checked, the supply of food can keep up with the growth of population, keeping the ecosystem balanced. If disease was not a prevalent factor to check the growth of population, then the Malthusian Law certainly would be.

However, checking the growth of population is not the only reason the disease is needed. Exposure to viruses can also help future generations of humans live longer and more fruitful lives. Strange as it may sound, being exposed to a particular virus can help ones children become better equipped to deal with it. This because human beings, as all living things, are constantly evolving. As the world around them changes, the physiology of the human changes as well. Each generation is stronger, faster, and generally better fit to its environment. Adaptation to disease is one aspect of this adaptation. As one is exposed to a virus, the body begins to manufacture antibodies to fight the intruder. As the virus wipes out the weaker members of society, the survivors bodies have adapted and created a defense mechanism against that particular illness. These antibodies are then passed on to the next generation, making them inherently more resistant to the virus. This ensures the survival of the race.

Viruses also help society by advancing science. Each time a new virus is discovered, medical science rushes to find a cure. And, with each new epidemic, science takes great steps in the understanding and curing of diseases. If it wasn’t for the Bubonic Plague, it may have taken decades for doctors to discover that bleeding wasn’t a viable treatment of diseases. Many of the breakthroughs of medical science were the result of a researcher or doctor looking for the cure to a certain disease. As long as there are diseases and viruses in the world that doctors cannot cure or understand, medical science will march on, looking for the answers.

Although devastating and often traumatic, sickness and disease could never be removed from our society, or any society, completely. As they saying goes, build a better lock and you build a better thief, viruses keep getting more lethal and more frightening as medicine learn how to combat each one. However, as horrifying and lethal as Ebola and AIDS are, they still have their natural place in the world’s ecosystem.

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An Analysis of the Conquest of Native America in the Columbian Voyages, the Columbian Exchange and Their Historians by Alfred W. Crosby. (2022, Jun 10). Retrieved from