The Columbian Exchange

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What are the most crucial ways in which the Columbian exchange changed the world?

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Some of the most crucial ways in which the Columbian exchange changed the world are the spread of various plants and animals; the spread of disease; and the spread of religion and ideas. Some of these changes are positive and some negative, but no one can deny that the arrival of Columbus in the New World in 1492 initiated a process of globalization that has only increased as the centuries have passed.

In terms of plants and animals, we can speak especially of food crops and domestic animals. Many of the foods we take for granted these days were not part of the European diet until the Columbian exchange began. Potatoes, corn, beans, tomatoes, peanuts, vanilla, and pineapples were among the foods unheard of in Europe before Columbus's voyage. The explorers brought them back, and they quickly became important staples that helped feed many people. In turn, the explorers provided crops to the Americas, including wheat, barley, and grapes. They also brought domestic animals like horses, sheep, goats, cows, and pigs that were not found in America before—except for horses, but they had long since died out. Indeed, the Columbian exchange revolutionized the way people throughout the world ate.

Unfortunately, though, not all the results of the Columbian exchange were beneficial. The Europeans also brought diseases that Native Americans had never before been exposed to, and the latter died in large numbers from smallpox, typhus, influenza, diphtheria, cholera, and malaria. Some scholars estimate that half of the population in some areas was wiped out by these diseases.

The Columbian exchange also brought the spread of Christianity and of Western ideas. Scholars have interpreted this spread both positively and negatively depending upon their presuppositions, but the spread of European religion and thought undoubtedly made a huge impact on the Americas as Europeans settled into it and began to shape it in new ways. At the same time, Europeans sometimes found themselves being shaped by Native American ideas, at least when they chose to be open enough to learn.

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