Effects of The Columbian Exchange

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The Columbian Exchange, which existed between the 1500s and late 1700s, refers to the cultural exchange between the Native Americans and the Europeans that took place as a result of commerce between West Africa, the Americas and the Europeans (Lauren Reis). The Columbian Exchange brought about the introduction of new world crops such as maize and potatoes, the exchange of livestock and the development of a global commerce system among other positive consequences. However, it also led to the spread of fatal diseases, increased demand for slave trade, exploitation of indigenous people and introduction of arms in warfare of the Americas.

            The exchange of agricultural produce was an essential part of the Columbian exchange. From the Americas, the Europeans were able to adopt potatoes to their lands and eventually, into their diet. Potatoes became a staple food for Europeans because they presented a number of advantages. First, they were easy to store because they are not perishable. Secondly, because of how the nature of their growth, it was easy for potato cultivators to hide them during tax collection. Moreover, in case of an invasion, the aggressors did not dig up the potatoes in the ground and thus some food was left after the raid (Lauren Reis). Maize was also introduced into European’s diets and helped them to survive drought and famine during their stay in the Americas.

            The introduction of new breeds of livestock to the Americas was another consequence of the Columbian Exchange. Domestic animals such as sheep, cattle and goats were introduced to the Americas by the Europeans. The livestock flourished due to the reduction in predators when compared to their place of origin. Eventually, these animals became a vital part of the natives’ diet. In addition to these animals, horses were introduced to the American Indians (Lauren Reis). The horses revolutionalized travel and warfare. The fast pace of the horses facilitated faster travel and enabled armies to attack their foes with the element of surprise. Moreover, wars were fought from a higher ground due to the availability of horses. Furthermore, it changed the lifestyle of the natives to a nomadic one because travelling was more convenient.

            The Columbian exchange was a significant illustration of a global commerce system. The parties involved in this exchange came from different areas of origin and thus created a basis for international cooperation. The effects of this cooperation can be observed in the diverse nature of the United States of America’s population (National Council for the Social Studies). Therefore, the Columbian exchange can be credited for bringing the Western and Eastern Hemispheres together after an extended period of living in isolation.

            Slavery was a negative outcome of the Columbian exchange. Upon reaching the Americas, the Europeans exploited the natives and tried to use them for cheap labor to grow their crops. However, they realized that the locals were too weak to consistently work in plantations. Therefore, they turned to slavery to get workers to farm their extensive land (Lauren Reis). Moreover, the demand for produce made in the Americas increased and thus more slaves were traded from Africa to the Americas to meet the demand. Through the unfortunate occurrence of slavery, black culture was permanently incorporated into the Americas’ cultural history.

            Fatal diseases were introduced to the Americas as a result of the Columbian exchange. Initially, Native Americans were not introduced to diseases because they had not travelled away from their place of origin. Therefore, their immune systems were weak and thus fell ill when they got in contact with the European travelers. An instance of this disease was small pox which was almost eradicated in Europe but claimed a large number of lives in the Americas. Physicians among the Native American populations tried to cure the malady but were unsuccessful and thus those affected ended up dead (John Lawson).

            The exploitation of indigenous people was also another effect of the Columbian exchange. Since Europeans possessed superior weapons compared to the American Natives, they were able to suppress the indigenous people to their will. In some instances, the Europeans carried out massacres of local populations to achieve conquest. For example, the Aztec civilization was destroyed by Hernan Cortes despite stating that he had come in peace (Massacres in the Main Temple). Furthermore, inhabitants of European colonies were constantly robbed and killed by agents of their colonizers despite being loyal subjects. Additionally, these acts of ruthlessness were expressed in the works of arts of Theodore de Bry. The justification for these actions was attributed to the belief that Native Americans were cannibals (Theodore de Bry).

            The introduction of arms to the Native Americans was an outcome of the Columbian exchange. Initially, the Native Americans were using canes dried in the sun which had sharp edges as weapons and had no access to iron. Their ignorance was evident during the initial visits of the explorers. In these encounters, it is documented that they attempted to hold swords by their sharp edges and consequently got hurt. Moreover, they did not display any understanding about guns (Christopher Columbus). The introduction of arms led to more deaths as the guns introduced were more fatal when compared to the weapons they wielded earlier.

            In conclusion, the Columbian exchange brought about significant negative effects that had long-lasting impact in the Americas. First, the historical injustices that were committed during this period have carried forward to the present day society. The Native Americans continue to exist in poverty while the African American community continues to experience social injustices. However, more can be done to correct the wrongs that were done in the past.

November 13, 2023


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