The Columbian Exchange
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The Columbian Exchange
By Richard Scotti
European Conquest
Southern New Hampshire University
The Columbian Exchange was a period of cultural exchange between the “Old World” of the Europeans and the “New World” of Native Americans. This paper will discuss how the Columbian Exchange altered life for both parties and shaped the development of the New World politically, socially, culturally, and economically. There were drastic differences between the Europeans and the Native Americans, and when they began to live in close proximity, these differences provided the atmosphere for learning as well as disagreement. The Columbian Exchange would have a dramatic effect on relations between the settlers and the natives, and this would also spill over to relations between countries that would be formed in the New World and their European counterparts.

The Columbian Exchange was an important event in the development of the New World and can be defined as the exchanging of ideas, culture, food, politics, and social customs between the European settlers and the Native Americans. However, this exchange was more like a meeting of Eastern and Western culture, and this began after the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Once Columbus “discovered” the “New World”, as it was deemed, he saw the vast differences between the Natives he encountered and the culture he was familiar with in Europe. There were obvious differences such as the difference in appearance between the Natives, who were dark-skinned and wore little if any clothing, but more time would need to be spent to really explore the cultural, social, economic, and religious chasm that existed between the two groups and that is the focus of this paper. The differences between these groups and how those helped shape the relationship between the East and West both initially and in the years to follow is fascinating and one of the most important events in modern history.

I will begin with two areas that had a dramatic effect on the world at large after the Columbian Exchange: food and disease. Columbus discovered there were many different kinds of food in the New World, and these crops eventually made their way back to Europe and beyond. Many foods, such as “sweet potatoes, maize and cassava (also known as manioc) resulted in caloric and nutritional improvements” while “other crops such as tomatoes, cacao, and chili peppers complemented existing foods” . While food consumption, agriculture, and trade were all affected by the introduction of these and many more types of food from the West to the East, this was not a one way street. The Columbian Exchange of food also included “crops such as sugar, coffee, soybeans, oranges, and bananas” that were introduced to the West. These crops became staples of the economies of the West as they were mass produced in this new region for worldwide distribution. Over the course of time, the exchange of food items resulted in an increase in both production and trade, which benefitted both East and West, and made Western territories extremely valuable to the settlers. Trade would continue and help shape the world economy for centuries and coffee the second most traded commodity on the planet, just slightly behind crude oil.

Disease is another “product” that was exchanged during this period, and unfortunately this exchange had some dire consequences for both parties. The Europeans desire for travel and expansion led them to broaden their horizons, so to speak, but they also brought disease with them. “Small pox, malaria, measles, chicken pox, and influenza” were some of the diseases brought by Europeans to the New World, and because the Natives did not travel outside the Americas, their isolation led them to have great difficulty in fighting these diseases. “Syphilis, polio, hepatitis, and encephalitis” were some of the diseases that went from West to East. Since most of these diseases were communicable and passed through air or touch, it wasnt long before many were infected. The spreading of disease was especially hard on the Native Americans, who had never been exposed to these pathogens and therefore had no way to combat them. Disease weakened the Native population considerably, but epidemics such as the rapid spread of smallpox amongst Native Americans were not limited to the West. Venereal diseases such as syphilis grew to “epidemic proportions” in Europe, Russia, and Africa. The spread of disease is still a common problem to this very day. Diseases such as AIDS, SARS, and H1N1 have all recently been spread throughout the world in a similar manner.

Social and cultural exchange between East and West also had a dramatic effect on the shaping of the New World, and these cultures were very different. The Europeans were more “technologically advanced” than their Native American counterparts, especially in the areas of language (a written alphabet for example), weapons, and agriculture. The Europeans tried to educate the Natives and introduce them to the written word. The Natives did not have a written alphabet, and in turn did not recognize the written agreement. Natives used “blood oaths” rather than agreements and lacked a system of written laws for

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Columbian Exchange And Native Americans. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from