How did Christopher Columbus' "discovery of America" change the world?

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gpane eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Columbus's discovery was world-changing as it helped to establish the existence of the Americas in European awareness, and vice versa. He was not the first European to travel to the Americas, but he was the first to leave a long-lasting impact in this regard. The really significant factor in his voyage was the era which it tool place: the era that has come to be known as the Age of Discovery. This was the age when Europeans began to travel further and further afield, often with royal sanction, as in the case of Columbus who was financed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Spain and Portugal were the pioneering voyaging nations at this time. There were several reasons for this ever-increasing exploration abroad. A major factor was the attempt to find new routes for trade, particularly to the lucrative commercial centres of the East; this was what Columbus was attempting, and on making his first landfall in the Caribbean he thought he had reached India. Another important reason was the drive - particularly on part of the devoutly Catholic Hispanic powers - to convert heathen peoples to Christianity.

The later fifteenth century, then, was a time of great voyages by Europeans and on one level Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas was just another of these. But his turned out to be the most far-reaching one (metaphorically if not literally) because he helped open up an entire new section of the world for further investigation. At a time when geographical exploration was being actively encouraged by governing European powers, it was inevitable that many more voyages would follow along the path that Columbus established. In this way, a truly global awareness began to take shape for the first time. The cultural, material exchange between the eastern and western hemispheres became systematized, not just haphazard.

Columbus, then, paved the way for numerous other voyages from Europe  to the Americas, thus firmly establishing trans-Atlantic connections. This was the beginning of a fruitful exchange which still continues today. But it also caused problems, particularly for native American populations which often fell victim to an excess of Christianizing zeal on part of Europeans which led to the depreciation of indigenous cultures; they were also driven back before European technological superiority (and rapacity). Most of all, though, the native American peoples suffered from the influx of new diseases that Europeans unwittingly brought with them, like smallpox, to which Americans simply were not immune, and which decimated their numbers. There was much hostility between the peoples of the Old and New World, a conflict of mentality also, which often exploded into violent confrontation.

However, the very real sense of wonder and excitement on both sides of the Atlantic at the discovery of unsuspected other realms and cultures cannot be denied. Columbus’s first voyage to the Americas, then, was a true world event in every sense of the term. Its ultimate achievement  was not merely in re-shaping geographical and cultural knowledge, and establishing new routes for the exchange of goods and ideas, but in enlarging the imaginations of peoples across the world and forging a new global perspective.

moustacio | Student

Although Christopher Columbus was not the first person to discover the Americas - the Vikings had discovered the continent as early as 1000 BCE and Ming China in the early 1400s, he was the first explorer to return to spread tales about his voyages. Columbus’ discovery brought about the establishment of the Columbian Exchange, which saw the movement of plants and animals between the Americas and Europe, Asia and Africa. Crops, such as potatoes and corn, that were only found in the Americas, transformed the European continent after they were brought back from the New World, whilst animals, such as horses and pigs, were shipped to the continent. Since they could be grown on marginal and non-arable lands, their introduction into agriculture led to an increase in food production, which brought about population booms in cities and towns. The interactions between the native Americans and the European merchants, however, led to the introduction of new diseases, such as smallpox, that the Americans had never encountered before, which decimated entire populations. On the other hand, the discovery of the continent greatly boosted international trade and produced vast amounts of wealth for the European states through the extraction of silver, allowing for example, Spain to become a large, wealthy empire by the 1500s. Perhaps the most important effect Columbus’ discovery had was the emergence of new understandings amongst the Europeans, who had their imaginations opened up to various new possibilities that the world held for them beyond what they had been told - individuals began to question their traditions, religious institutions, and the general “truths” that had been accepted by society, and became increasingly open to new radical ideas that paved the way for the intellectual, industrial and scientific developments of the day.

misscrump | Student

Christoper Columbus discovery changed the world in many different ways. One way was after hearing about Columbus discovery more nations and people wanted to set out on voyages of their own. This caused new land to be discovered and people searching for new colonies to live.

This also expanded to trading of spices and raw materials that was new to Europe and profitible, inculding the discovery of gold and silver. 

It also let to many diseases being spread to different countries, as well as war over new land. 

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