columbian exchange


As we have learned in Unit 3, one of the global effects of the Age of Exploration, and specifically of the discovery of the New World, was an incredible exchange between the Old World and the New World. This is known as the Columbian Exchange. It resulted in the movement of massive amounts of plants, animals, diseases, and peoples along with cultures and technologies that ultimately spread across the world. For this discussion, you will study the Columbian Exchange and consider its impact, posting your conclusions and perspectives in the discussion forum.


To begin, please watch (or rewatch) the Crash Course video on the Columbian Exchange, which is included below, and read The Columbian Exchange. This will provide you with an overview of the exchange and its influence. When you are ready to post, please respond to all four of the following questions about the Columbian Exchange:

What were the two most important items exchanged that came from the Old World to the New World? Why were they so important?
What were the two most important items exchanged that came from the New World to the Old World? Why were they so important?
What was the most significant problem caused or liability introduced in the Old World and in the New World by the Columbian Exchange? Explain.
In your opinion, was the overall impact of the Columbian Exchange positive or negative? In other words, would the earth have been better off without this exchange? As you discuss your perspective, explain both the major positive and negative effects that guide your opinion.

The columbian exchange:The Age of Exploration, specifically the discovery of the New World, also led to an incredible exchange between the Old World and the New World. This is known as the Columbian Exchange. This included the introduction of new foods in the Old and New Worlds, which dramatically altered cuisine and eating habits on both sides of the Atlantic. For example, rice, bananas, olives, wheat, coffee, and oranges all went from the Old World to the New while corn, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, pineapple, and peppers came from the New World. These foods made life better for Native Americans and Europeans, and eventually for people in Asia and Africa. The most dramatic change in the Americas was the introduction of large domesticated animals. The only large animals that were native to America were llamas and they were limited to the highlands of South America. Europeans brought their animals to the region, their cows, pigs, and sheep, but the most influential of these animals was the horse, which helped Native Americans farm, hunt, and travel.

But not only did diets change, but lifestyles were also altered: Indians wore different clothes with the introduction of wool, tobacco became important in Europe, the landscape of the New World was altered by the animals, and many other changes. Diseases were also exchanged, leading to the devastation of New World populations. Smallpox, measles, influenza, and other diseases decimated Native Americans. The only New World disease sent east was syphilis. There were also technologies that were part of the Columbian Exchange, significantly the use of wheeled vehicles and gunpowder technology, both of which were transformative in the Americas.

The Columbian Exchange

The Columbian Exchange greatly affected almost every society on earth. Maize and potatoes became very important crops in Eurasia by the 1700s. Peanuts and manioc flourished in tropical Southeast Asian and West African soils that otherwise would not produce large yields or support large populations. This exchange of plants and animals transformed European, American, African, and Asian ways of life. Foods that had never been seen before by people became staples of their diets, as new growing regions opened up for crops. For example, before AD 1000, potatoes were not grown outside of South America. By the 1840s, Ireland was so dependent on the potato that a diseased crop led to the devastating Irish Potato Famine. The first European import, the horse, changed the lives of many Native American tribes on the Great Plains, allowing them to shift to a nomadic lifestyle based on hunting bison on horseback. Tomato sauce, made from New World tomatoes, became an Italian trademark, while coffee from Africa and sugar cane from Asia became the main crops of extensive Latin American plantations. Also the chili / Paprika from South America was introduced in India by the Portuguese and it is today an inseparable part of Indian cuisine.

Before the Columbian Exchange, there were no oranges in Florida, no bananas in Ecuador, no paprika in Hungary, no tomatoes in Italy, no pineapples in Hawaii, no rubber trees in Africa, no cattle in Texas, no burros in Mexico, no chili peppers in Thailand and India, no cigarettes in France and no chocolate in Switzerland. Even the dandelion was brought to America by Europeans for use as an herb. Before regular communication had been established between the two hemispheres, the varieties of domesticated animals and infectious diseases were strikingly larger in the Old World than in the New.

Despite such exchanges, the destruction caused by European diseases ensured that Native Americans had to deal with a very negative side of the Columbian Exchange as well. This led, in part, to the devastating effects of Old World diseases on Native American populations. Although we may never know the exact magnitudes of the depopulation, it is estimated that upwards of 80–95 percent of the Native American population was decimated within the first 100–150 years following Columbus’s arrival in 1492. Moreover, the cultivation of financially lucrative crops in the Americas, along with the devastation of the indigenous population from disease, resulted in a demand for labor that was met with the abduction and forced movement of over 12 million Africans during the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

Scarcely any society on earth remained unaffected by this global ecological exchange.

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