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The Columbian Exchange Essay

864 words - 4 pages

In 1492, Columbus discovered the all but vacant Americas. There were undiscovered plants, such as potatoes, corn, and maize to be eaten. There was a plethora animals, such as bison, beaver, and fish, to be hunted. There were masses of peoples to be converted to Christianity and there were diseases to be fought. Soon, the interchanging of plants, animals, cultures, and disease between the Old and New World would form the Columbian Exchange. Most importantly, the effects on populations, economy, and cultural aspects, in both worlds were about to change history forever.
The populations of the New and Old Worlds were greatly affected by the Columbian Exchange. In the Old World, populations and life expectancies of individuals were flourishing. This was due to the exchanging of various edible plants between the two lands. In Europe, the introduction of the potato would greatly increase populations in many countries, especially Ireland. “The potato was originally grown in the Andes mountains” where the Natives first grew the tubular root (“Potato.”). Much of Europe was hesitant in growing and consuming the new food, but in 1794, during a wheat famine, soon came to love the new source of energy (“Potato.”) In Ireland, the potato quickly became a staple food as the population grew “by seven million in two centuries (“Potato.”).” With milk and approximately three acres of healthy potatoes planted, a family could be fed for two years, assuming no potatoes spoiled (“Potato.”). However, the Europeans weren’t the only ones who experienced the benefits of the Columbian Exchange. Maize was brought to Asia, causing rapid population growth, and wheat, beef, and plantain were of benefit to Native American’s nutrition (Crosby). However, Amerindians were also faced with Old World weeds that thrived in the unfamiliar soil of the New World. Weeds such as couch grass, dandelion, shepherd’s purse, groundsel, sow thistle, and chickweeds began springing up and destroying native’s gardens (Crosby). Plants did not alone hold the effect of population, however. Wherever there is an exchange of living organisms, there must also be an exchange of germs.
Populations of Natives were depleting rapidly in the New World. The settlers had brought bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi along the voyage with them. Unprepared for the exposure to new diseases such as smallpox, measles, chickenpox, influenza, malaria, and yellow fever, the Amerindians were finding it hard to take care of themselves and others. These diseases “killed off as much as 90%” of the Native Americans population, and smallpox alone killed more than a third of the population in a 1518 epidemic...

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