European Exploration of America

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What is the impact of Christopher Columbus's voyages to the Americas?

The impact of Christopher Columbus's voyages to the Americas was the death of countless indigenous peoples via murder and disease, the introduction of European travel to the Americas, and the displacement and enslavement of indigenous peoples for many years to come.

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The impact of Columbus's voyages to the Americas was massive. First of all, he showed that it was possible to sail west from Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. This led to many more voyages of discovery and conquest by the Spanish as well as many other European nations. While Columbus was originally looking for routes to the Spice Islands, he quickly changed his purpose, and his subsequent voyages were more focused on conquest. With Spain snatching up new colonial holdings in the Americas, other European powers got involved, and a contest of imperialism ensued.

Columbus's voyages also led to the enrichment of Spain. In 1492, Spain had recently been reunited after centuries of Moorish occupation. The funds that came in as a result of Columbus's and other voyages helped quickly turn Spain into the richest power on earth.

For the people Columbus encountered in the Americas, the impact was devastating. Diseases that were unintentionally introduced as well as brutal treatment and outright conflict with the Spaniards resulted in the complete destruction of the Taino. Other populations suffered terribly as well. It was ultimately diseases from Europe inadvertently introduced by these and other voyages that decimated the native population of the Americas. It is thought that within a century of Columbus's voyages, the native population had been reduced by ninety percent.

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Christopher Columbus, like so many European colonizers who arrived to the so-called Americas after him, brought rampant genocide and destruction to the lives of indigenous peoples and to the lands that were invaded by colonizers. When Christopher Columbus, who was a terrible navigator, first arrived in the Caribbean islands, he arrogantly assumed he had reached India and declared the people he met to be Indians. Columbus, of course, was in the wrong hemisphere; he had actually made contact with the Taíno people. The Taíno people were incredibly welcoming to Columbus and his crew. Columbus noted this, even going as far as to remark in a letter that they were immensely kind and welcoming and that fifty of his men could enslave them all. This letter certainly foreshadowed all that was to come for the indigenous peoples of the lands now called, mostly by non-indigenous peoples, North and South America. Within few short years of Columbus's first visit, European invaders from Spain, England, and France brought enslavement, genocide, disease, and displacement to the indigenous people and lands.

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Columbus’s voyages to the Americas are important mainly because of the fact that they “opened” the New World to exploration and to conquest.  In other words, Columbus’s four voyages did not have a tremendous impact in and of themselves, but they led the way to other voyages and events that did affect the Americas, Europe, and the world.

For the Americas, Columbus’s coming signaled doom for native societies.  Native societies were almost universally destroyed or at least greatly altered by the Europeans who followed Columbus.  The overthrow of the Aztec empire and the creation of New Spain is an example of this.  The Aztecs lost their political independence.  Culturally, they underwent a process in which their culture was mixed with that of Spain and became something entirely new.

For many native groups, Columbus’s coming led to eradication.  This was particularly true in North America.  There, English and other European settlers did not mix with native societies.  Instead, they simply pushed them off their ancestral lands, killing many in the process.  In addition, diseases brought by Europeans raged throughout the New World where people had no resistance, killing tremendous numbers of natives.

Columbus’s voyages also led to negative effects in Africa.  Eventually, Europeans who came to the Americas decided that they needed labor to work their American plantations.  They turned to Africa, and took millions of people from that continent to work as slaves in the New World.

In Europe, the effects of the voyages were generally more benign.  Europe benefitted from many things found in the Americas.  Spain, of course, got the use of American gold and silver.  (This was not an unmixed blessing for Europe as it helped to fund many wars that might otherwise not have happened.)  European countries gained an outlet for excess population, making domestic affairs less volatile as unhappy people could often simply leave for the Americas.  Europeans were also exposed to such things as corn, potatoes, tomatoes, and chocolate, all of which changed their eating habits. 

All in all, Columbus’s voyages led to events that affected almost the entire world.  The effects did not come from Columbus’s voyages themselves, but from the later voyages and colonization that his voyages made possible.

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One of the impacts of Columbus' voyages to the new world was something called the "Columbian Exchange." This does not merely apply to Columbus, but to many of the explorers of the time period.  Essentially, the exchange took place between the European explorers and the indigenous people.  As many of the indigenous people to the explored regions offered insight into the land, assistance to the explorers after weary journeys, and natural resources of their areas, the explorers brought new diseases from Europe, introduced elements of subjugation to the civilizations, and took the natural resources for profit back in Europe.  This underscored one of the major impacts the Columbus brought to the New World, the merging of two worlds and the domination of one over the other.

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