Today’s world is more interconnected than ever, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. What can we learn from the first sea voyage around the planet 500 years ago and its lasting impacts on our global interconnectedness today?
Andrés Reséndez, a professor of history at the University of California, Davis, whose groundbreaking research revealed the breadth of Native American enslavement, will examine this question and more as a recipient of a 2020 Carnegie Fellowship.
Reséndez will use the $200,000 stipend to research how Ferdinand Magellan’s epic 1519–22 voyage from Spain, through the tip of South America, and across the Pacific Ocean transformed our world.
Magellan’s expedition triggered a transfer of animals, plants and germs across the Pacific, much like Columbus’ journey did across the Atlantic in 1492, said Reséndez, a scholar of colonial Latin America, borderlands, and early explorations of the Americas and the Pacific Ocean. But while the Columbian Exchange has been widely studied by historians, the Magellan Exchange has been largely overlooked.
‘Important ... to the moment we are living’
“It had very profound historical effects that we are just beginning to understand. For example, there was a population boom in Asia driven by New World crops such as corn, peanuts and sweet potatoes. Today, China is the second largest producer of corn in the world only after the United States; the top two producers of peanuts are China and India; and Papua New Guineans derive more calories from sweet potatoes than anyone else on the planet.”
The transfer of diseases in both directions, he added, “seems very important, certainly to the moment that we are living” with the spread of the new coronavirus from China to countries around the globe.
Reséndez is one of 27 Carnegie fellows selected this year from 322 nominations, and the first from UC Davis since the program’s establishment in 2015, to foster scholarly research in the humanities and social sciences.
Carnegie fellows are chosen based on the originality and potential impact of their research proposals, as well as their capacity to communicate their findings with a broad audience.
The Other Slavery won Bancroft Prize
Reséndez is the author of three books, including the landmark The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America, which won a Bancroft Prize and a California Book Award, was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award, and was longlisted for the 2017 PEN America Literary Award. He also wrote A Land So Strange and Changing National Identities at the Frontier, and is finishing a new book project about the very first expedition from the Americas to Asia and back that turned the Pacific Ocean into a vital space of contact and exchange.
In nominating Reséndez for the Carnegie Fellowship, UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May described him as “a brilliant scholar, presenter, teacher and engaged professional for our greater good.”
Reséndez’s research into the social, cultural, economic and biological ramifications of contact across the Pacific Ocean five centuries ago holds promise for better understanding our global economy today, May said. “In a world with increasing focus on the Pacific, it is vital that we understand how we got here.”
Teaches the history of food
In addition to his scholarship, Reséndez co-teaches, among other classes, an undergraduate course on the history of food. “I grew up in Mexico City — all the meals in my family came from the supermarket, so I knew very little about plants and animals. After I came to Davis, I gained a newfound appreciation for that and became very intrigued by where plants and animals come from. These foods can tell us a lot about historical processes.”
Reséndez said he was honored to receive the fellowship. “I will get the luxury of devoting this coming academic year to working on this project.”
During his 12-month fellowship, Reséndez will examine documents in Spain, China, Southeast Asia and India for early mentions of foods, textiles, ceramics and diseases — though COVID-19 restrictions could limit his travels. “At this point, I have a few promising crops that I am pursuing, but I am casting my net widely.”