Friday, April 11, 2008

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Last night J and I went to the Virginia Historical Society for a great lecture by Charles Mann, the author of 1491. As beautiful a day as it was, I just don't have the oomph to go out and hammer another ride (not that I've done any hammering lately), and really need to let the ole' bod rest so I can get rid of the virus that is wiping me out. So even though J's hubby, Mr. Negative Splits thought we were crazy, we went to the lecture.
Its sad that in a 300 seat auditorium (which was pretty packed) that J and I were the youngest people in the room. Doesn't anyone care about history anymore? The lectures and exhibits that the Historical Society put on are first rate.
Anyway, the topic of the lecture was the Triangle Trade. Except not like you were taught in school. This one started with sugar cane, and the "new" concept of plantations, slavery, and trade created by the various Muslim empires. That trade was taken over by Christian traders and empires, and perfected by the Spanish. Then the English got jealous over the money that Spain was getting, not to mention silk from China on the back side of the trade of silver to China in exchange for silk and spice.
Which is how China got maize and sweet potatoes from South America. Sweet potatoes and maize allowed rice eating Chinese to survive when the Japanese invaded and the Chinese pulled back from the coast lines and into the mountains. You cant grow rice in mountains, but you can grow these crops. Of course that law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head, and the terracing of land in the mountains caused erosion and a whole host of other problems.
Ditto for the Americas, Conquistadors and colonists brought trade goods to the native people, but also brought disease and slavery(not to mention the whole land and resources grab thing...). Its strange to think that malaria actually came to the Americas from England, and malaria was the reason why Africans were prized in this county for slaves. Huh. I knew England had malaria, but really didn't put two and two together. When the native population is 95% wiped out, its hard to use them as workers...
So if you ever get a chance to head over to the Historical Society, I highly recommend it. And I recommend Charles Mann's book. I got thru about two chapters last night, and for a big history tome, its a good read. Who knows, you too may pick up a thing or two.

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