Europeans brought their culture, plants, animals, and many diseases with them when they discovered the New World. They also brought back things that were unique to the New World; this was the Columbian Exchange. During the exchange, Europeans brought multiple grains and livestock to the Americas and brought back potatoes, maize, and tobacco plants. Although the Columbian Exchange brought forth many benefits for both the Old and New World due to increased trade and globalization, the Columbian Exchange had many downsides such as the rampant European diseases and slave trade brought to the New World.
When comparing the physical appearance of the New World to his home country, Christopher Columbus logged that the New World appeared to be a very new experience. The plants and aromatic herbs he discovered were unlike what he normally encountered (document 1). Later on, French and Dutch explorers came to the New World and brought with them domesticated animals as well as species of invasive weeds (documents 3 and 4). The animals brought over from Europe ended up thriving as massive herds in the grasslands of the New World (document 10). This benefitted the New World as it eventually gave Native Americans access to livestock, but at the same time had a negative impact on local vegetation due to the aggressive nature of the weeds that were introduced. Christopher Columbus’s point of view from document 1 is that of an explorer trying to gather as much information about his journey as possible.
Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes wrote in his letters about the common diet of the people living in the Caribbean. Some of their food staples were maize, chili peppers and patata yuca (document 2). These foods, along with other crops indigenous to the Americas such as tobacco and cocoa beans were traded by natives in exchange for European grains and livestock (document 4). The point of view of document 4 shows which tangible items were traded between the Old and New World. This exchange benefitted both parties and likely improved the relations between certain European countries and native tribes. Although the relations usually started off well, Europeans later enslaved and killed many Native Americans later on either by blade or by disease. It can be inferred that although European diseases wiped out a majority of the Native American populations, the introduction of tobacco and cocaine by the Native Americans to the Europeans would lead to many more deaths over the course of the forthcoming years (document 6). One of these diseases, smallpox, found its way to the area of modern-day Latin America and resulted in the death of most of the Aztec population (document 8).
The joining of the Old and New World not only benefitted the participating parties, but rather the entire world economy. Gold and silver mined in South America linked together South America, Europe, and even Asia. It is likely that this influx in bullion created wealthier European states, enabling them to fund war efforts against one another that would not be possible without South American gold and silver (document 7). Mining colonies were not the only profitable groups that were created in the New World. Triangular trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas allowed for inexpensive slave labor to operate cash crop plantations. These slaves were branded by either their French, English, or Dutch captors and sent to the Americas to work on plantations. As much as this benefitted the European economy, many African families were devastated by this atrocious system (document 9).
The extent of cultural and social trades made during the Columbian Exchange are unparalleled to this day. Europeans brought over their native plants and livestock to be raised in the Americas while Native Americans provided them with new food crops like potatoes, tomatoes, and maize. While most of the people indigenous to the New World paid a high cost for the economic welfare of European countries, the Columbian Exchange was necessary for the creation of future civilizations in the New World.
Primary source documents from Native Americans would make this analysis more complete. The documents provided mostly show the point of view of Europeans but lack the perspective of the natives on the other end of the exchange. With this information, a more complete analysis of the actual costs to the people indigenous to the New World could be conducted.