In 1493, his second book about the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the western hemisphere, Charles Mann writes at length about the Columbian Exchange, a term coined by geographer and historian Alfred W. Crosby. The Exchange describes the process of how ecosystems separated since the break up of Pangaea were rejoined through the Spanish explorer’s travels. This transportation of plants, animals and diseases radically altered world history and we still feel its effects today. As you can see in the image at right, this era of exploration is why there are tomatoes in Italy, potatoes in Ireland, chiles in SE Asia, sugar cane in the Caribbean as well as numerous diseases in North America that most of us probably imagine have always been here. Not true.
There are also questions regarding whether the Chinese beat Spain to North America, but even if that is true, Columbus’ voyages in 1492 had a profound impact on the world.