The Columbian Exchange

Start Free Trial

What were the cons of the Columbian Exchange?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

While the Columbian Exchange did have some benefits, like the exchange of new technology, ideas, plants, and animals across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, there was also a significant negative result that came from the Columbian Exchange. Along with the positive exchanges came the negative exchange of disease....

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

While the Columbian Exchange did have some benefits, like the exchange of new technology, ideas, plants, and animals across the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, there was also a significant negative result that came from the Columbian Exchange. Along with the positive exchanges came the negative exchange of disease. This primarily had a negative effect on Native American populations. Smallpox, for example, proved extremely deadly to Native Americans. Europeans had been exposed to smallpox for many generations, and while it had been deadly, those who survived had passed on antibodies and immunities to future generations. Native Americans, who had not previously been exposed to these diseases, did not have immune systems capable of fighting off smallpox. The result was tremendous loss of life when they became exposed to diseases like smallpox after coming into contact with Europeans. It is estimated that up to 90% of the Native American population was killed off due to disease. Additionally, this led to the destruction of Native American civilizations as Europeans claimed and colonized their land.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Columbian Exchange refers to the exchange of produce, animals, and biological processes between the Old World and the New after Columbus's expedition in 1492. One of the cons of the exchange was the diseases brought from Europe to the New World. These diseases, including smallpox, influenza, and measles, decimated Native American populations, as New World populations did not have immunity to them. It is estimated that the Taino, who lived on the island of Hispaniola, lost over 90% of their population as a result of suffering from European diseases. Later, the Aztecs were decimated by smallpox. These diseases were brought unwittingly by the Europeans and were not part of an intentional effort to destroy New World populations. However, Europeans also brought the practice of slavery with them, another con of the Columbian Exchange. Slaves were brought from Africa to the New World to work on growing crops such as cotton, tobacco, and sugar, instituting a brutal system that was to last for centuries. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team