About 520 years ago, Christopher Columbus wrote in his journal: “They give what they possess in exchange for anything that may be given to them. I here saw some of the ship’s boys bartering broken bits of glass and crockery for darts. This was just the beginning of the Old World changing the New World. Christopher Columbus’ voyage transformed the world because making contact with the New World initiated a set of profound changes for the future. The legacy of his voyage became known as the Columbian Exchange.
His connection to the New World resulted in the exchange of people, plants, animals, ideas, technology, and diseases. For example, in the article The Worldwide Impact Of The Columbian Exchange, Alfred W. Crosby explains that before the Columbian Exchange the New World didn’t have horses, pigs, cattle, sheep, or goats, only llamas, alpacas, dogs, a few fowl, and guinea pigs. When the Old World introduced pigs, people realized that pigs multiplied quickly so they were a great source of food. Before cattle, the Native Americans had to use llamas, alpacas and themselves to haul things.
They could only carry up to 100 pounds so they couldn’t get as much done. Cattle changed everything. Suddenly, they could get a lot more work done. Cattle could carry lots of weight; they could pull heavy plows and provide strength when needed. Horses had a similar effect. Before horses, Native Americans had to walk everywhere, even when hunting. Horses helped them travel long distances and become more efficient hunters. With horses, they were able to hunt even buffalo. These new animals made travel, farming, and hunting a lot easier and more efficient. Unfortunately not every exchange was so positive.
Disease was something else the New and Old Worlds shared but it had a devastating effect. According to the article The Columbian Exchange: A History Of Disease, Food, And Ideas by Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian, the Old World shared many infectious diseases with the New World. Some of the worst were smallpox, measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, bubonic plague, typhus, and malaria. The people of the New World had no immunity to these diseases so they were basically defenseless. Within 150 years, approximately 80-95 percent of the Native American population was decimated.
This led to war and great shifts in power as societies weakened and leaders died. Starvation was another outcome of the diseases because there weren’t enough people to provide food. Not all the effects of the Columbian Exchange were good or bad, some were both. Plant life shared between the New and Old Worlds dramatically benefitted both but also created new problems. According to Nunn and Qian in The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas, the exchange of plants between the Old and New Worlds “was a prerequisite for the population explosion of the past two centuries. The New World food had more calories and nutrients, so the Old World could feed their people better, and their population grew. The New World had food like potatoes, peanuts, peppers, pineapple, chocolate, vanilla, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and corn. In the exchange, the Old World brought sugar, coffee, bananas, grapes, sugarcane, turnips, olives, peaches, pears, onions, honey, wheat, rice, barley, oats and oranges to the New World. These foods weren’t as calorie-rich or nutritious but they still became popular in the New World.
One type of plant that did not benefit the Old World in the exchange was tobacco. The Old World population quickly became addicted to tobacco so the demand increased. To produce enough tobacco, they needed more help so they looked to slave labor. This was another negative result of the exchange. More and more slaves were needed to produce the crops so the slave trade grew and grew. The Old World was so addicted to tobacco, that more people died from smoking cigarettes while serving in World War II, than actually died fighting in the war.
In summary, the Columbian Exchange was both good and bad for the Old and New Worlds. They both benefitted from the exchange of animals and most plants, but were devastated by the diseases. Even though some of the outcomes were tragic, the Columbian Exchange was an example of human progress.
Columbus, Christopher, “Journal of the First Voyage,” 1492, Early Americas Digital Archive Website, http://mith. umd. edu/eada/html/display. php? docs=columbus_journal. xml&actio n=show. Nunn, Nathan and Qian, Nancy, “The Columbian Exchange: A History Of Disease, Food, And Ideas,” Journal of Economic perspectives, Spring 2010. Crosby, Alfred, “The Worldwide Impact Of The Columbian Exchange,” History Now, June 2007, University of Texas Research Blog, October 23, 2012, http://www. utexas. edu/opa/blogs/research/2011/08/18/old-world-meets-new-in-the-columbian-exchange/. Davis ,Kenneth, “Don’t Know Much About History,” HarperCollins Publishers Inc. 2003. Crash Course, “The Columbian Exchange: Crash Course World History #23,” Youtube. com, June 28, 2012.