An Analysis of The Positive and Negative Effects of The Columbian Exchange on Afro-eurasia and The Americas

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The following composition states and supports the idea that the Columbian Exchange resulted in more positive effects rather than negatives in the scope of foods and diseases between Afro-Eurasia and the Americas because of the newly added varieties of crops and animals for food traded by the Europeans and the Amerindians. The seven sources that were used in this composition offer objective, comprehensive information about the happenings in the Columbian Exchange and the effects thereof on the people that would be living on the American continents from then on. They explore both positive and negative immediate and long-term effects due to this global exchange. However, they have different points of primary interest. The works of Alfred Crosby are more oriented to discuss the biological effects of the Columbian Exchange rather than the food-related; Malone, Gray, Ross, and Ryan and Carney tend to focus on the food- and goods-related aspects; and McNeill and Mann cover both aspects equally.

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The Columbian Exchange was the trade of goods and diseases between the Amerindians and the Europeans. It began when Christopher Columbus, the titular explorer, made his first journey to the Americas in 1492. The new crops and livestock introduced to each landmass thrived in their new environments and added variety to peoples’ diets, but diseases, an adverse transferee of the Exchange, caused mass die-offs in the native population, but not the Europeans because the Amerindians had many fewer diseases to share. The vast majority of these diseases were Old World diseases for several reasons. The Amerindians had gone to the New World over the Beringian Land Bridge, which existed in a period of mass glaciation, whose cold eliminated the risk of most diseases.

The peoples who would later become the Europeans did not experience this effect to such a degree as they were in regions of higher temperatures and had greater populations to share diseases. The people settling in the Americas were isolated from Afro-Eurasia for millennia, so they never acquired the plenty of diseases that were shared among the interconnected Afro-Eurasians for a great period of human history that allowed a variety of diseases to develop. Some of these diseases include smallpox, measles, chickenpox, influenza, malaria, and yellow fever, all of which were easily lethal to the Native Americans.

However, these natives developed immunity and grew in population because of the food variety provided by the Europeans and overcame this obstacle. Furthermore, while disease was a significant negative effect of the material exchange between the Old World and the New World, a greater quantity of favourable goods were traded. The aforementioned favourable effects included different domesticable animals and plants, such as pigs, cattle, and Old World crops such as wheat, barley, rice and turnips. The horse was one of the animals introduced to the native population, for now natives could hunt much more effectively and efficiently for large groups of animals or be more powerful in combat (Malone, Gray, Ross, Ryan).

Between the Old World and the New World in the Columbian Exchange many species of animals, domesticated and on occasion wild, were sent. There were multiple animals that were shipped between the landmasses that would impact the normal tactics of work and combat of the New World. For instance, there was the “transformation of the grasslands and revolutionizing of labor,” the many cattle that would pull plows for farming (Malone, Gray, Ross, Ryan). As a result of this trade across the Atlantic, we can see the difference between the domestication levels of the natives compared to that of the whites.

The “difference between the animals on the different sides of the Atlantic was extraordinary… The natives only had a few animal servants…he (Christopher Columbus) brought horses, dogs, pigs, cattle, chickens, sheep, and goats” (Malone, Gray, Ross, Ryan). In addition to all of this, the greatest impact of these new animals was the new food opportunities. The pigs brought from Europe “reproduced the fastest and served as meat for the explorers” (Malone, Gray, Ross, Ryan) and other than that they were also found all over the new land in a short period of time. Cattle was brought as well, for they had multiple purposes for their original people. They were used for both food and for their hide, which was often shipped back to the motherland.

Not only did the Europeans and the native Americans exchange animals, but crops were also traded between the two populations. The three main plants that were bartered were sugarcane, maize, and potatoes. Sugarcane could be transformed into sugar, which became a commodity of this time period. Like cattle it was multipurposeful, for it could be “used in coffee, tea, chocolate, and rum” (Malone, Gray, Ryan, Ross). Maize was also quite important in this exchange between the Old and New World. Maize, or American corn, was used for a variety of reasons, like its ability to be store/dried, could be successfully cultivated in numerous regions, and also its similarity to wheat. This crop could be grown quickly and in other places that wheat could not.

The last major crop were potatoes. Potatoes were useful because of their resistance to certain weather conditions, and were “cheap food for sailors” (Malone, Gray, Ryan, Ross). Because of this introduction to this new plant, many European countries, like Ireland, became quite dependent on it.

Disease was by far the most devastating effect to come out of the Columbian Exchange. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, America was mostly disease free due to the cold involved in the Bering Land Bridge and the last glaciation period. Disease was transmitted largely by unfamiliar European domesticated animals, causing the introduction of a myriad of diseases such as smallpox, measles, mumps, whooping cough, influenza, chicken pox, and typhus (McNeill). Results of the epidemics were staggering: Millions of natives died from these diseases because of their lack of immunity to them. A consequent labour shortage for the Europeans occurred, and this was one of the major causes for the European utilisation of African slaves.

However, the reduced native population, and the overall reduced human population existing in the Americas, resulted in environmental recovery: animals that were previously hunted rebounded in numbers, and forests that were cut and burnt down regrew (McNeill). Though disease caused many problems, the new variety of crops, animals, and plants that changed both Europe and America for centuries to come outweigh those problems. The biological and economic effects are just as positive as the disease introduction was negative. Columbus had goals of introducing crops that could flourish. Grains such as wheat, barley, and rye were brought to the Americas. Mediterranean crops such as sugar, bananas, and citrus fruits also fared well. Crops such as rice, cotton, and tobacco helped America economically. It provided the basis for slave labor to take hold in Americas. Though slavery negatively impacted Africa, it is undisputable that it positively impacted the Americas economically.

Like crops, animals were received just as well in Americas, albeit except for the disease. There were animals introduced for many purposes. Some were mostly for food, such as pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats. Aside from food, this also brought a change in American economy. There were economies based on ranching now. Others, notable the horse, held other purposes. The introduction of the horse to the Americas revolutionized life for Natives. It allowed for both transportation and for the more effective hunting of buffalos (McNeill).

Afro-Eurasia also benefitted. Amerindian native crops had significant impacts in Eurasia and South Africa. Crops such as potatoes and corn found importance in both Eurasia and South Africa. Corn found its way to be a staple crop in many regions including North Africa, Egypt, the Ottoman Empire, India, and much of Europe. Its biggest impact was in South Africa, however. It was the crop planted in almost 75% of the possible cropland. The potato also had a similar, if not greater impact. In Northern Europe, the crop flourished.

The success of the crop led to a population growth. This population growth led to a foundation for important developments such as the Industrial Revolution and European imperialism (McNeill). Lesser crops also saw importance. Almost everywhere in world, at least one American crop was introduced and complemented existing crops. “By the late 20th century, about one-third of the world’s food supply came from plants first cultivated in the Americas.” (McNeill).

Food in any form brought from Europe because very valuable to the settlers because of its rarity and because the Europeans were not accustomed to the food of the New World. One particular story is that of Antonio de Rivera and his several olive seedlings. He believed that his colony, an irrigated valley in Peru, would grow olive trees well, so on one of his trips between Spain and this colony he brought from the former many olive seedlings. Unfortunately for him and his settlement, only two or three survived the journey, so they became highly valuable and tightly guarded, to no avail–one was stolen and transported 500 leagues to Chile (Crosby). Even so, both locations were successful in developing a considerable olive oil industry in the fertile valleys along the Pacific coast of South America. This is just one of the stories in which some crop was thoroughly utilized.

Disease of any sort was very deadly to almost every population located in the Americas, whether they were located on the coast or more inland. One example of this would be the destruction of the aborigines of Española and their Caribbean neighbors in the 1520’s (Crosby). The Europeans under the rule of Christopher Columbus arrived at the Americas, and came in contact with the natives there. New diseases were brought to the attention of the natives and the population started to spike down, for these diseases had never been encountered by any of the native populations that came in contact with the arriving Europeans.

As a result, the aborigines were decimated, as well as “their Arawak brothers in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica (Crosby) followed them into oblivion shortly after” (Crosby). Inadvertently European brought their diseases, and they did not realize that they had introduced them to the native population because they had already been immune to them and had not paid any attention to them. Because of these deadly diseases, the natives were murdered, and it was hard for Columbus to take any natives back as slaves to the Queen of Spain.

The explorations of 1492 and onward helped to reconcile the separation between the Americas and Eurasia. Crops, domesticated animals, and pathogens all were brought west to the New World. Amerindian crops made their way to Eurasia and Africa as well. Almost all Old World crops, plants, and animals thrived in the New World environment. The exportation of Amerindian animals did not have the same impact as Amerindian crops or Old World crops and animals. Maize, potatoes, squashes, chiles, and cassava became a staple crop for hundreds of millions of Europeans, Africans, and Asians.

These crops also allowed for a population growth in the Old World. The Old World and New World environments were both similar. Plants, crops, and animals were all adapted to the New World environment. However, the New World was not adapted to Old World germs and pathogens, which caused an initial decrease in population. However, as time passes, the population recovers (Crosby). Because the population recovered, the Old World and the New World exchanged crops and animals for free. Therefore, the positive effects of the exchange were achieved for little drawback.

For a long time biodiversity has been caused by the geographic separation of different species of life and sublife (viruses) (Crosby). The linking between the Old World and the New World began during the last period of glaciation when the Bering Land Bridge was elevated higher than the sea level and animals were able to cross. Humans also crossed in pursuit of prey, but while there was exchange between the two worlds, it was very minute and did not involve plants. The next exchange was when the Vikings discovered the New World, but this exchange was also small-scale and insignificant to the course of history (Crosby).

However, the most significant exchange was that of when Christopher Columbus, an explorer who sought to bring wealth and power to his country, stumbled upon the Americas. From the Old World–Europe, Africa, and Asia–and from the New World–North America and South America–he and the subsequent European New World explorers passed back and forth an enormous variety of plants and animals, resulting in drastic changes in the ecosystems of both environments and in the diets of the peoples of the two landmasses (Crosby).

The Columbian Exchange included more than an exchange of plants and animals. There was also and exchange of cropping systems (Carney, 2001). The introduction of certain crops to the New World during the Columbian Exchange also introduced a need for labor to work those crops. Due to disease decimating much of the native population, a new labor source had to be found in the form of coerced labor from Africa. Rice accompanied African migrants to the New World and those migrants planted the rice wherever they saw fit.

Not only did the Columbian Exchange effect the native population of the Americas, but also the motherland of the explorers. For the crops brought back to Europe began to be planted and mass produced. For example in the Mediterranean region of Europe, the plants maize and beans were beginning to be seen in the rural areas. “Plots of American maize in Italy, carpets of American beans in Spain” (Mann). In Europe we also some nations starting to become dependent on some American crops. Ireland is a perfect example of this crop dependence.

The American potato was their primary source of food, and it was also one of their best exports to the world. But when the winters started to become more and more devastating, as well as longer, the potatoes started to stop growing, and as a result when the Potato Famine occurred most of the people of Ireland had little to no food. This led to a vast decrease in the population, but this only occurred in those nations that were too dependent on their crops. For the rest of Europe witnessed an increase in development and industrialization because of the increase in agricultural activity (Mann).

This is why the Columbian exchange is seen as one of the most important events since the extinction of the dinosaurs, for there was a great exchange of plants the would spread all around the world (Mann). “The Columbian Exchange…is the reason there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in the United States, chocolates in Switzerland, and chili peppers in Thailand” (Mann).

Perhaps the most prominent effect the Columbian Exchange had on the world was the emphasized differences and importance of race. In the Americas, the race was more fluid. The Spaniards born in Spain (peninsulares) were at the top of the hierarchy (castas), followed by those born in the Americas (creoles), those born of mixed-race unions (mestizos), the indigenous peoples (Indians), and slaves. Though it was difficult, there was fluidity in this system and blood did not all have to do with your social status.

As suggested by the comprehensive analyses of the Columbian Exchange provided by the seven sources used in this paper, it is evident that the Columbian Exchange was indeed beneficial to all parties involved in that period of time as well as for the future. The variety of animals, plants, and diseases that were transferred between the populations, one being the natives and the other the Europeans, impacted society at that specific time period and still does today. While disease may have been a detriment to the peoples of the New World and a nuisance to those of the Old, they were able to recover and resist the ailments. Furthermore, the new foods available to their disposal improved their diets and consequently their health, thus allowing them to overall benefit as societies from the Columbian Exchange.

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But, to completely contradict this, deadly diseases that the native population had not yet experienced and become immune to were also traded between the Old World and the New World. As a direct result of this, the population of the Americas decreased, although as time passed, the population recovered. The Columbian Exchange provided Europe with the necessary variety of food to create a population growth and food surplus to begin urbanization and industrialization. If the Columbian Exchange had not happened, Europe’s ability to industrialize would have decreased, and it would have been a possibility that the Industrial Revolution might not have occurred. As a result of this exchange we can see that both of the civilizations were affected, whether it was positively or negatively.

Works Cited

  1. Crosby, A. W. (1972). The Columbian exchange: Biological and cultural consequences of 1492. Greenwood Press.
  2. Carney, J. A. (2001). African rice in the Columbian exchange. Journal of African History, 42(3), 377-396.
  3. Mann, C. C. (2011). 1493: Uncovering the new world Columbus created. Vintage.
  4. Malone, C., Gray, J., Ross, M., & Ryan, M. (2016). American passages: A history of the United States, brief. Cengage Learning.
  5. McNeill, J. R. (1992). The Columbian exchange: Biological and cultural consequences of 1492. Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 23(3), 556-557.
  6. McNeill, J. R. (1998). The Columbian exchange: Biological and cultural consequences of 1492. In R. I. Rotberg & T. K. Rabb (Eds.), The origin and nature of the American people (pp. 53-67). Harvard University Press.
  7. McNeill, J. R. (2010). The Columbian exchange: Biological and cultural consequences of 1492. In S. Pomeranz & K. Topik (Eds.), The world that trade created: Society, culture, and the world economy (pp. 11-23). Routledge.
  8. McNeill, J. R. (2011). The Columbian exchange: Biological and cultural consequences of 1492. Journal of World History, 22(2), 251-254.
  9. McNeill, J. R. (2012). The Columbian exchange: Biological and cultural consequences of 1492. Reviews in American History, 40(4), 640-642.
  10. McNeill, J. R. (2013). The Columbian exchange: Biological and cultural consequences of 1492. The Journal of Economic History, 73(1), 365-367.
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An Analysis of the Positive and Negative Effects of the Columbian Exchange on Afro-Eurasia and the Americas. (2021, October 21). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from
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