The Colombian Exchange

9 September 2016

The Columbian Explosion Imagine everything you know about America today. Think of the foods, the animals, the annoying sickness we all get come wintertime – and then imagine knowing that most of those things were not supposed to be on this land. Because of The Columbian Exchange, America and Europe were able to transfer good, and bad, commonalities amongst each other, and the end result was both unifying, and catastrophic. Most people would be surprised to learn that the “classic American hamburger” is not exactly, “American,” per say.

Because cows were not native to the lands, and neither was the bread the bun consists of. Do you like sugar in your coffee in the morning? Well, sugarcane was brought overseas to the Americas from Europe. And even coffee itself isn’t a native American product. There are hundreds of beloved combination foods that would not have been possible without the effects of The Columbian Exchange. Europe brought over several crops that are essential parts of our present-day foods, as well as pesty weeds most present-day suburban lawns would love to be rid of.

The Colombian Exchange Essay Example

The list consists of, but is not limited to: rice, wheat, barley, oats, coffee, sugarcane, bananas, melons, olives, dandelions, daisies, clover, ragweed, and Kentucky Bluegrass (Brinkley, 20). The Americas transferred their own list of wondrous plant life to the European countries: corn, potatoes, beans, tobacco, peanuts, squash, peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, pineapples, cacao, chicle, papayas, tapioca, guavas, and avocados (Brinkley, 20).

Think of all the things that would not exist: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sandwiches in general even, spaghetti sauce on spaghetti, coffee for breakfast, popcorn, chocolate, and the list goes on and on. As far as plant life goes, The Columbian Exchange was obviously a positive transfer. Another positive aspect of it deals with the domesticated animals that we consume today. These animals were good for many things beyond simple nutrition as well.

The Americas gave Europe animals such as turkeys, llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs, (Brinkley, 20) which enriched lives overseas some, but the transfer of animals from Europe to the Americas left a much more powerful impact. Europe brought: chickens, goats, sheep, pigs, cattle, and horses (Brinkley, 20). This list consists of all the main meats America consumes today. But it also includes animals that were extremely beneficial to farm and working life. Cattle provided milk and cheese, and sheep provided wool.

Horses were the most essential animal to the Americas and quickly spread throughout the country (Brinkley, 20). They were powerful work animals and were able to assist farmers in their field work, being strong enough to carry men and goods all at once. Our country would not have made advances in wars without the use of soldiers on horseback. Nor would the horse and carriage combination be able to be used as ways for transportation, and later be used as a model for the automobile, that transformed society in evolutionary ways.

The horse also became a treasured domestic pet and later, was showcased in races and events. Before The Columbian Exchange, horses had disappeared from the Western Hemisphere during the Ice Age, and Native Americans had only adopted animals such as dogs to domesticate (Brinkley, 20). But they quickly took the European’s lead and familiarized themselves with horses as well. The Columbian Exchange was not always a good exchange of goods however. It brought devastating consequences for Native peoples who were not immune to European diseases. The biggest impact of The Columbian Exchange deals with sickness and disease.

European settlers were subjected to syphilis, a new disease that was not seen before amongst their people, that is transmitted sexually. This disease was most likely transferred from Native American women who were sexually assaulted by European men, which reveals a very dark side of the colonization of our country. The swamps and lowlands were also a deathtrap of sickness for European settlers (HBG, 17). The diseases presented to the Native people were far worse in comparison to what the Europeans were subjected to, however. Many illnesses that were common amongst European settlers were rare to the Natives.

They had little, if any experience with sicknesses such as smallpox, measles, chcicken pox, malaria, yellow fever, influenza, and the common cold (Brinkley, 19-20). Because Europeans were very used to seeing these diseases and had dealt with them over a vast period of time, their immune systems were strong enough to combat the viruses with little harm to the person. This was the exact opposite with the Native Americans, however. Such diseases were so foreign and rare to them that there was no way their bodies or immune systems would be able to fight off such a virus, and they were infected easily.

Breakouts and epidemics were spread throughout the Native peoples faster than someone could send a letter in the mail. The introduction of European diseases to the New World was so devastating that it could be compared to the infamous Black Death, the plague that overtook a third of Europe’s population in 1347 (Brinkley, 10). Disease almost exterminated several Indian tribes, and millions of Native Americans died. The results were catastrophic amongst the Native People, so many of their ancestors and elders perished at once that they lost important aspects of their cultures along with those people (HBG, 18).

Without The Columbian Exchange, much of what we know and love about America today, would not exist. Certain plants and food crops would not grow on our soil, animals and wildlife would not run through our forests or graze on our plains, and awful diseases that weaken human bodies would never have encountered the white blood cell of an Indian. The Columbian Exchange was a huge collision of culture and lifestyle. Food and livestock were traded along with traditions, and ideas as well. The Columbian Exchange was fundamentally important in history, and the effects of it are still seen today.

In many ways, this explosion of cultures set up the foundation for modern American life, and with the demise of millions of Natives, it also (unfortunately) enabled European settlers to claim more land. There are of course areas and aspects of The Columbian Exchange that did more hurt to the world’s culture than it did good, but it would be futile to argue that no good came from The Exchange, because there are several obvious and apparent advantages that this country gets to now take.

That being said, it is still hard to decipher whether or not the Exchange was worth it. Are horses, coffee, and sugar really worth the lives of millions of peaceful-minded Natives? Some might say yes, but most would argue, no. Regardless of whether it was good or bad, The Columbian Exchange undoubtedly made a huge difference in this world, and it continues to grow and change America today.

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