What is the importance of Columbian Exchange?

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The Columbian Exchange literally led to the largest loss of life of a group of peoples in human history. Between the years 1492 to 1691, the population of indigenous peoples of the so-called "Americas" declined between 90-95%. This loss of life was due to outright and deliberate genocide as well as from transfer of European diseases and death from enslavement and forced removal from peoples' homelands. The Columbian Exchange also directly led to the enslavement of millions of African people. The existence of the so-called United States is completely rooted in this horrific loss of life, genocide, and slavery. The Columbian Exchange formed the building blocks of this capitalist system that depends upon the exploitation of laborers and the harmful extraction of resources from the Earth to benefit the wealthy.

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The Colombian exchange is the circle of trade routes established by Christopher Columbus upon reaching the New World, or the Americas. This exchange created a massive impact on the western world. One of the biggest things it did was to spread new foods and products throughout Europe, like tomatoes, coffee, potatoes, and other items. It increased the power and influence of mercantilism and created new wealth for many in Europe.

Unfortunately, on the negative side, the Columbian Exchange also encouraged slavery and widened its impact. One of the legs of the Columbian Exchange was the transport of slaves from Africa to the Americas, and this accelerated slavery in the new world drastically. In the end, the trade routes established created massive changes that reverberated throughout the western world.

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I would say that the previous thoughts were well constructed and very thorough.  In my mind, the Columbian Exchange represents the essence of the historical narrative.  I think that this is really powerful.  It depicts the narrative between the powerful and the powerless.  It is the story between those who are deemed as “the winners” and those who are subjugated by them.  I think that the symbolic importance of the Columbian Exchange highlights that there can be little hope of gaining a “consensus” view of history, in that for each step of creation, an act of destruction accompanies it.  Few would deny that the Columbus voyage and the Columbian exchange had tremendous benefits for Europe.  Yet, the destruction wrought to the indigenous people of the New World compels a narrative that encompasses both experiences.  In this light, the Columbian Exchange becomes an amazingly powerful metaphor for understanding and teaching history.

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The major things that make the Columbian Exchange important in my opinion are

  • It brought infectious diseases to the New World.  This is the most important impact because the introduction of these diseases is what killed off huge percentages of the Native American population.
  • On the more positive side, it allowed for the mixing of resources from the two "worlds."  You had American crops (notably corn, potatoes, chocolate and tobacco being "discovered" by the people from the Old World.  This changed European diets in important ways.
  • The Exchange also altered the way of life of Native Americans forever.  Even groups of people who did not directly contact the first Europeans were changed.  For example, it was this exchange that led to the introduction of horses to the Plains Indians and allowed them to create their culture that was marked by such things as buffalo hunting from horseback.
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