What impact did Europeans have on their New World environments—meaning native peoples and their communities as well as ecological elements such as the land, plants, and animals? Conversely, what impact did the New World's native inhabitants, land, plants, and animals have on Europeans? How did the interaction of European and Indian societies together shape a world that was truly "new"?

Expert Answers

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

Both the New World and the Old World influenced each other heavily in what is called the Colombian Exchange. Diseases such as smallpox wiped out entire villages of Native Americans—around ninety percent of the Native Americans in the New World died due to disease brought from the Old World. These...

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

Both the New World and the Old World influenced each other heavily in what is called the Colombian Exchange. Diseases such as smallpox wiped out entire villages of Native Americans—around ninety percent of the Native Americans in the New World died due to disease brought from the Old World. These weakened strong empires enough so that small groups of Europeans could wipe out civilizations that had existed for hundreds of years.

The Spanish, realizing the power of the horse, initially forbade Native Americans from owning them. The horses soon escaped, and Native Americans on the Plains soon became adept riders, using the horse to hunt buffalo and in war. The arrival of the horse led to the Cheyenne and Lakota becoming strong Plains tribes.

Pigs also escaped from farmers and became feral hogs. Having no natural predators, these pigs soon reproduced and destroyed native crops. Today feral hogs remain nuisance animals throughout the southeastern United States. Europeans also brought wheat to the New World—the climate soon made the New World a major exporter of grain back to the Old World.

The New World also contributed heavily to the Old World. Jamestown settlers created a hybridized tobacco that used strains from Virginia and the Caribbean—this tobacco then became popular throughout the world, especially in Europe and the Middle East. Vegetables such as squash, maize, and potatoes increased lifespans in the Old World and thus helped to fuel the overcrowding that led to immigration.

The Colombian Exchange changed the world and was the greatest man-made biological exchange in history. The Old World ultimately benefited more than the New World, as the New World faced unknown European diseases. All was not bad for the New World, however, as the horse transformed Native American culture and enabled many tribes to thrive.

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

The arrival of Europeans in the Americas had a profound effect not only on the Americas but also on the world as a whole. For the first time, there would be a sustained connection between the Old World (Europe, Asia, and Africa) and the New World (North America and South America). The exchange of culture, technology, disease, plants, and animals between the two worlds would become known as the "Columbian Exchange" and would lead to an interconnected globe.

The impact Europeans had on native civilizations is generally considered to have been negative. Although new technology and food were introduced to the Americas by Europeans, many of the thriving native civilizations were destroyed as Europeans craved greater territorial control over the Americas and the plentiful valuable resources they contained. One of the biggest threats to indigenous civilization came through the introduction of diseases like smallpox. Europeans had developed greater immunity to diseases like smallpox, whereas Native American immune systems had not been previously exposed to these new diseases and were not able to fight them off. In the centuries following European arrival in the Americas, there was a severe drop in the native population. This drop is largely due to the introduction of new deadly diseases. (However, it is equally important to note that the population also dropped due to systemic and intentional violence perpetrated by the Europeans.)

Native Americans and Europeans also clashed on ideas regarding land ownership. European colonizers saw land as something that could be owned by an individual. This meant they could use the land as they saw fit and could keep others off their land. This led to clashes with many of the natives, who did not see land as something one could maintain private ownership of. The indigenous peoples viewed land as more of a resource that could be shared for the greater good.

Europeans also had an impact on the environment in the Americas. The popularity and value of beaver pelts led to the arrival of great numbers of fur traders and hunters from Europe. The high demand eventually led to a significant decline in the beaver population in the Americas, as hunters sought them out in the name of profits. In some regions of North America, the beaver faced near-extinction. The loss of the beaver—a key part of the ecosystem—led to decreases in populations of other creatures that relied on the beaver for their own survival.

Europeans also introduced pigs to the New World. Pigs, when released to search for food sources, proved destructive as well. Pigs competed with animals native to the New World for food sources, and they can be seen as an invasive species.

Europeans also found the environment of the Americas suitable for certain cash crops which they struggled to develop in Europe. Tobacco, cotton, and sugar became central factors in making European colonization profitable. New plant-based foods would also be introduced to Europe from the Americas. Staple foods, such as potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and peanuts, which were native to the New World would be introduced and become popular in Europe.

The major impact of Native Americans on Europeans could be their knowledge of the Americas. In a number of cases, early colonists in the Americas relied on the knowledge of indigenous people to survive harsh conditions. This would ultimately prove to hasten the downfall of many native cultures.

Contact between Europeans and Native Americans brought the world into a new, unprecedented interconnected era. The contact between the "Old World" and the "New World" would lead to the introduction of new foods, technologies, and ideas to people who had not yet been exposed to them. It would, however, also lead to the introduction of new diseases and the destruction of entire civilizations as well. Over the next few centuries, the Americas would change from continents controlled by Native Americans to continents dominated by European colonizers.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team