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Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of America in 1492 marked the beginning of a new era in history known as the Columbian Exchange. The Columbian Exchange was the global exchange of plants, animals, diseases, ideas, and technology between the Old and New Worlds during a time of discovery, exploration, and colonization. This exchange changed the way many people, including the Europeans and Native Americans, lived and helped support the increase in population through the circulation of a variety of new crops and livestock. The Columbian Exchange was an important event in history in how it brought change in agriculture, disease, culture, and ecology. With the interaction between the Europeans, natives, and indigenous peoples during the exchange, there came both positive and negative effects.
A primary positive effect of the Columbian Exchange is increased food supply of both the Old World and the New World. Various crops such as wheat, barley, and rye, were introduced by Columbus and his followers. Although the crops did not perform as expected, they were soon able to flourish and adapt to the conditions in the Americas. Other crops introduced were rice, cotton, and tobacco. Crops that thrived in large plantations formed the basis of slave trade in America. The climate of North America provided perfect conditions for growing wheat, a stable and fundamental food crop for millions of people. The exchange also brought animals, such as turkeys, guinea pigs, dogs, pigs, cattle, goats, horses, and sheep. This caused a development of ranches that kept large herds for meat and hides. Animals brought through the Columbian Exchange became both socially and economically important to Native Americans.
Another positive effect of the Columbian Exchange was the influence in technology during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Europe was more economically and technologically advanced compared to the Native Americans they met in the New World. Though advanced, both sides were still able to benefit from the exchange of their ideas and cultures. Native Americans were the ones to mostly benefit and to be impacted by technology. When the Europeans came and colonized the New World, they changed many things in Native American culture. Some changes were the written alphabet, new farming methods and tools, and new weapons. New farming equipment included the plow, which helped cultivate large areas of land and create a surplus of plants for the masses. Weapons such as guns and knives facilitated hunting and fishing for the Native Americans.
One of the negative effects of the Columbian Exchange was the introduction of new diseases. Contact with Europeans allowed for diseases to easily be transmitted to communities that were once isolated. Europeans brought deadly viruses and bacteria, such as smallpox, measles, typhus, and cholera, for which Native Americans had no immunity. These diseases decreased the Native American population and caused an ecological and economical imbalance. The decline in population led to a shortage in labor, which prompted Americans to seek labor force from Africa through the slave trade. With a shortage in population also came forest expansion and the increase in the amount of wild animals that people usually hunted. Any interaction made between Europeans and Native Americans resulted in the spread of diseases and decrease in population.
The Columbian Exchange affected the interactions between the Europeans and the Native Americans in both a positive and negative way. The Columbian Exchange was the mutual transfer of material goods, commodities, animals, and diseases. In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed on his first voyage to the Americas and launched the beginning of contact between Europe and the Americas. Along with the discovery of the New World, there was a new era that would be characterized as the Columbian Exchange. If it hadn’t been for Columbus’ voyage, there would not have been an introduction of new resources and ideas between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.