Stipend will support research on ‘The Magellan Exchange’ of foods, textiles, ceramics and diseases between the Americas and Asia.
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 UC Davis whose groundbreaking research revealed the breadth of Native American enslavement, will examine this question and more as a recipient of the prestigious 2020 Carnegie Fellowship.
Exploring origins of the global economy
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.
A scholar of colonial Latin America, borderlands, and early explorations of the Americas and the Pacific Ocean, Reséndez said Magellan’s expedition triggered a transfer of animals, plants and germs across the Pacific, much like Columbus’ journey did across the Atlantic in 1492.
But while the Columbian Exchange has been widely studied by historians, the Magellan Exchange has been largely overlooked, he said.
“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 novel coronavirus from China to countries around the globe.
A UC Davis first
Reséndez is one of 27 fellows selected this year from 322 nominations for the prestigious fellowship, and the first from UC Davis since the program’s establishment in 2015 to foster scholarly research in the humanities and social sciences.
Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York and president emeritus of Brown University, said Andrew Carnegie’s aims in founding the corporation in 1911 — the pursuit of knowledge and the generation of ideas — are “especially relevant today as our society confronts problems that have been greatly exacerbated by COVID-19.”
“Fellows from earlier classes are actively addressing the coronavirus through their research on topics such as its impact on rural America, government authority during a pandemic, and ways in which different countries address infectious diseases,” Gregorian said. “The work of this exemplary Class of 2020 will also be of service across a range of other crucial issues.”
The 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.
Reséndez is the author of three books, including the landmark history 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 long-listed for the 2017 PEN America Literary Award.
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.” — UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May
In addition to The Other Slavery, Reséndez 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 finally turned the Pacific Ocean into a vital space of contact and exchange.
Ari Kelman, interim dean of the College of Letters and Science and a Chancellor’s Leadership Professor of History, called Reséndez a “generational talent” in his field.
“His scholarship is exceptional in its quality and reach,” Kelman said. “His teaching and mentoring are marked by dedication and humanity. His service to the campus is stalwart and essential. We’re very lucky to have him as a member of our community. This award is timely and much-deserved.”
Teaches food history
Among other classes at UC Davis, Reséndez co-teaches 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 that he was honored by the Carnegie Fellowship. “I will get the luxury of devoting this coming academic year to working on this project. I’m very excited about that.”
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.”
— Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science