The Columbian Exchange or the Columbian Interchange

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To paraphrase William Marcy, to the victor go the spoils. When we consider the Columbian Exchange there were many victors and spoils both of which impacted the world in many ways. The exchange of goods, diseases, ideas, animals, and crops began after the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492, thus kicking off what we refer to as the Columbian Exchange. (Shi and Tindall 2016)

The Old World and New World experienced significant cultural, economic, and social changes as a result of trading of goods, which up to this point, had been isolated to their hemisphere of origination.

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Beasts of burden transformed life in the new world; crops such as potatoes and corn ignited population growth in the old world. (Shi and Tindall 2016) Conversely, diseases introduced to the New World ravaged the Native American population, wiping out entire tribes from the face of the Earth. (Shi and Tindall 2016) Population growth, from new food staples introduced to the Old World, was unsustainable when crop failure induced famine broke out. (Great Famine 2019)

The introduction of the horse to Native Americans had a profound effect on their culture. Before horses, Indians hunted buffalo by stalking them on foot, making it a very dangerous means to provide food for their villages. (PBS LearningMedia – The Effects of the Columbian Exchange 2017) It also meant they were limited to herds within walking distance of their villages. With the introduction of horses to the New World, hunters became expert horseman, utilizing them bring down buffalo faster and safer. The horse also enabled a nomadic lifestyle amongst the Native Americans, enabling them to track buffalo across the far reaches of the Great Plains in North America, where buffalo migrated great distances feeding on grass. (Shi and Tindall 2016)

Food staples introduced to the Old World such as maize (corn), potatoes, and tomatoes thrived in soils that, before the Columbian Exchange, were considered useless for growing crops. (Nunn and Qian 2010) Specifically, potatoes enhanced life in the Old World because they were a nutrient rich, inexpensive food source of which anyone with a parcel of land could grow enough to raise a family with. (Nunn and Qian 2010) This turn of events led to a population explosion amongst the poor. By the 19th century, Ireland depended on the potato as a key source of food. In 1840, a mold named Phytophthora was inadvertently brought from North America to Ireland causing the loss of potato crops three years in a row; causing the Great Potato Famine. (Great Famine 2019) This famine killed up to one million people from starvation and other malnourishment induced diseases. Another estimated two million people migrated to North America to escape the famine. (Great Famine 2019) As terrible as the Great Famine was, the population eventually recovered and those fortunate enough to migrate to America started over in a new land full of opportunity.

As explorers arrived in the New World, they brought diseases with them like small pox, measles, whooping cough, bubonic plague, malaria and many others the native population didn’t have immunity built up to fight off these diseases common to Europe. (Nunn and Qian 2010) As small pox spread across the North American continent, it ravaged the native population; studies have shown that on average 80-95% of Native Americans died from the disease. (Nunn and Qian 2010) On Hispaniola, where Columbus and his crew first made land fall, the entire Taino population became extinct from disease. (Nunn and Qian 2010) Unlike people in the Old World, these natives had nowhere to escape to, doctors to treat them, or medicine to heal them.

The Columbian Exchange was vital to the continued success of the Old World and had irreversible affects to the New World; it could be said without it the world would be a much different place today. The original inhabitants of the New World gained advantages from this exchange; however, they were temporary due to the mass genocide wreaked upon them by explorers, immigrants, and government that soon followed. On the other hand, Europeans, British, Irish, and countless other Old-World people quickly migrated to North America to escape their troubled home lands, while Native Americans were forced to defend their homes, families, and land from the onslaught of land hungry immigrants chasing dreams across the ocean, whom would never be stopped.

Works Cited

  1. DeCou, Christopher. 2018. Changing our View of History? The Columbian Exchange and the Ecological Mindset. May 24. Accessed March 25, 2019.
  2. 2019. “Great Famine.” Encyclopedia Britanica. March 08. Accessed March 29, 2019.
  3. Nunn, Nathan, and Nancy Qian. 2010. “The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas.” Scholars at Harvard. Accessed 03 26, 2019. 2017.
  4. PBS LearningMedia – The Effects of the Columbian Exchange. 11 14. Accessed 05 27, 2019. 2017.
  5. PBS LearningMedia – The Problems of the Columbian Exchange. 11 14. Accessed 03 26, 2019.
  6. Shi, David Emory, and George Brown Tindall. 2016. W. W. Norton & Company. W. W. Norton & Company.
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The Columbian Exchange Or The Columbian Interchange. (2020, Nov 02). Retrieved from