What was the importance of the Columbian exchange? How did it change both sides of the Atlantic?

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When studying the Columbian exchange, it is important to pay attention to its significant legacy. For millennia, the so-called Old World and New World had been completely separated. When Europeans made contact with the Americas, plants, animals, cultures, and societies suddenly interacted in ways that never happened before.

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When studying the Columbian exchange, it is important to pay attention to its significant legacy. For millennia, the so-called Old World and New World had been completely separated. When Europeans made contact with the Americas, plants, animals, cultures, and societies suddenly interacted in ways that never happened before.

This led to conquest by Europeans in the Americas and the near-total destruction of many of what had been the most powerful societies in the Western Hemisphere. This was caused partly by the introduction of new diseases and partly through outright conquest. The Columbian exchange led to a huge transfer of wealth from the Americas to Europe and helped create some of the most powerful imperial powers of modern times.

It also led to a huge population decline in the Americas and a population boom in Europe. It is thought that disease and wars reduced the indigenous population of the Americas by as much as ninety percent in the first century after Columbus's voyages. Meanwhile, the new wealth and foods brought to Europe led to significant growth in the population there.

Included in the Columbian exchange is the West African slave trade. From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, around ten million enslaved Africans were forcibly brought to the New World. This caused a devastating collapse of many societies in Africa as they warred with each other to procure more slaves for sale. It also forever influenced the cultures of the New World, particularly in Brazil and the Caribbean, where most slaves were brought.

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The Colombian exchange is very important to the study of humans as a species. Europeans gained squash, pumpkins, and corn, which led to higher birth rates and greater longevity in the Old World. This helped to fuel overcrowding conditions, which indirectly led to wars as nations competed for dwindling resources. The overcrowding situation in Europe also led more people to come to the New World, thus creating strains in European relations with Native Americans. Tobacco, a staple in the New World, became popularized in the Middle East, thus bringing the Ottoman Empire into this transatlantic trading system.

The Colombian exchange also had ramifications for the New World. Spanish hogs escaped from the conquistadors and became feral. With no natural predators, these hogs reproduced and destroyed much of the native flora of the New World. Feral hogs continue to plague the South today. Native Americans in the West took advantage of Spanish horses, thus making the horse an integral part of Plains Indian culture. The horse allowed Plains tribes such as the Lakota to expand their range and become the dominant tribes in the West. While the tribes hunted buffalo well before the coming of the horse, the horse allowed the tribes to flourish and become more nomadic.

The Colombian exchange also brought diseases to the New World, such as smallpox. Anthropologists theorize that up to ninety percent of native tribes were killed by disease. Disease allowed a handful of conquistadors to take over the mighty Aztec and Inca Empires, thus ending centuries of rule by these advanced civilizations.

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A fascinating question and a great answer.  The importance of the Exchange to world history can hardly be overstated.  Tobacco, maize ("corn" is an old English word for "grain" in general), tomatoes, potatoes, etc. changed the dietary patterns of the entire world.  European crops and animals transplanted to the Americas did the same.  The importance of the horse in the colonial and Native American cultures is of utmost importance.  Native Americans did not have the wheel until Europeans arrived.  I doubt there is any way to overestimate the importance of the Columbian Exchange in terms of an expansion of biological diversity.

On the other hand, as Akannan points out, the exchange of ideas and ideals is equally important.  The democratic traditions of the native nations of the Eastern seaboard very much affected the colonists in the southern British colonies, expanding their concept of natural rights nearly as much as Locke and Hobbes.  The concepts of written language and the domesticity of white lifestyles gave birth to, among other things, the development of individual land ownership, a written language and legislative assembly in the Cherokee nation.  Of course the nonsense of the "noble savage" idea was twisted out of all recognition among philosophers in Europe, but even that did give rise to a sort of idealistic egalitarianism.

There were certainly problems, social and biological in terms of misunderstood ideas and the competition of non-native species, an exchange of diseases for which the natives of the New World had no immunity and social problems such as the growing dependence of poor people in Europe on the potato, which had a great effect on later famines in Europe, particularly the Potato Famine in Ireland.  Still, disaster and success tend to go hand in hand with humans in general, and the Columbian Exchange is one of the most important ecological events of modern history.

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The Columbian Exchange is extremely important on many levels.  The primary sphere of relevance is that it marked one of the first moments where there was a pure exchange of ideas, livestock, food, and goods between the world of "the West" and the "New World."  One of the critical elements of the age of exploration is the idea of allowing borders and boundaries to be blurred while being simultaneously discovered and etched.  The Columbian Exchange was a pivotal moment in this process because it showed that both the nations of Europe were able to directly interact with these new nations whose identity had become of international relevancy.  At the same time, the Columbian Exchange became the critical point where the exercise of power and control had become evident in this process of sharing.  From an exercise of potential cultural diversity and acceptance, the Columbian Exchange morphed this dialectic into one of control and domination.  As goods and ideas were exchanged to Europe, the recipients absorbed new lionesses for which there was no indigenous cure, exploitation of the land as well as its people, and the start of Imperialism.  The Columbian Exchange was one sided to this extent, proving that the age of exploration carried much more potential for disaster than anything else.  This becomes one of the critical elements of such a dialectic.

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