Columbian Exchange Essay

The modern world exists in a state of cultural, political, and economic globalization. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries two nations, Portugal and Spain, pioneered the European discovery of sea routes that were the first channels of interaction between all of the world’s continents, thus beginning the process of globalization in which we all live today. This explains the two pioneering nations, their motivations, their actions, and the inevitable consequences of their colonization. The Age of Exploration marked the highest point of Portuguese imperial power and wealth.At the beginning of the fifteenth century Portugal had an economy dependent on maritime trade with Northern Europe. Although Portugal lacked the wealth of its generation, it would lead the European society in the exploration of sea routes to the African continent, the Atlantic Islands, and to Asia and South America over the course of the sixteenth century. Several factors contributed to Portugal becoming the European pioneer in sea exploration. The first was its geographical position along the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, which allowed for the natural development of a seafaring tradition.

The second was the development of a complex maritime economy in which the port cities of Lisbon and Oporto became the commercial centuries of the country. The third critical factor that made Portugal a pioneer in exploration was its monarchy. Portugal benefited from a relatively stable monarchy whose kings encouraged maritime trade and shipping ventures. The Crown gave every possible incentive by implementing tax privileges and insurance funds to protect the investments of ship owners and builders.Portugal was fortunate to have kings who recognized the kingdom’s dependency on overseas trade and assisted in its expansion in every possible way. The stability of the monarchy was essential to the establishment of sustainable economic growth, thus the stability of the Portuguese monarchy gave the kingdom a seventy-year head start over the Spanish who were distracted by a civil war and the Reconquista of Granada. It was not until Columbus’ voyage in 1492 that the Spanish were finally in a position to challenge Portugal’s predominance in exploration.

Europe’s interaction with the Caribbean began in 1492 with the Spanish sponsored voyages of Christopher Columbus. Columbus’ voyages to the Caribbean incorporated two differing traditions of expansion. The first was influenced by his experience in the Portuguese merchant system. This background allowed Columbus to view his task as mainly one of discovery to be followed by the establishment of commercial outposts and trading centers’ that would tap into local resources. The primary goal of this system was the quick exploitation of the local area with minimum investment.

The primary goal of this system was the conquest and eventual settlement of new lands for the purpose of long term exploitation. The difference between these two traditions created expectations that brought Columbus into immediate conflict with the Spanish settlers who accompanied him. The Crown was called on in several occasions to mediate between Columbus and the settlers, usually deciding in their countrymen’s favor. This Spanish pattern of conquest and settlement became the standard for Spanish exploration in the New World.Upon discovering a new territory, the Spanish expeditions were usually, but not always, greeted by friendly inhabitants.

During this initial stage the Europeans would survey the area and the people to determine their potential for exploitation. Within a short period of time the inhabitants would grow to resent the Spanish who helped themselves to ‘the natives’ food, women and gold. ‘ Such abuses were common in Spanish cross-cultural contact and provoked violent reactions by various indigenous populations. Once native resistance was crushed the Spanish forced the villages to grow cash crops, pay tribute, and mine for their precious gold.The Spanish command was brutal and violent. The Spanish ventures in the Caribbean had to recoup their sponsors’ initial investment and this led to an obsession with discovering gold deposits.

Once these deposits were found the Spanish had to secure sufficient laborers to mine it. The exhaustion of gold deposits and laborers in the Caribbean led to the full-scale occupation and exploitation of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, and Cuba during 1508-1511. Each occupation followed the same pattern of discovery, local conquest, settlement, exhaustive exploitation, and finally a push into the frontier for new natural resources and slaves.The men who led these campaigns were known as the conquistadors.

They adapted the reconquista pattern of military expedition and settlement, often exploiting the pre-existing indigenous rivalries in order to divide and conquer with extreme efficiency. The quest for gold brought the conquistadors to the mainland of Central America where they would repeat the conquest pattern that had been so effective in the Caribbean, to defeat the Aztec and Inca Empires. The Spanish would bring back the things they found in the new world to trade with Spain this was later known as the ‘Columbian Exchange’.

The Columbian Exchange has been one of the most significant events in the history of world ecology, agriculture, and culture. The term is used to describe the enormous widespread exchange of plants, animals, foods, human populations including slaves, communicable diseases, and ideas between the Eastern and Western hemispheres that occurred after 1492. In that year, Christopher Columbus’ first voyage launched an era of large-scale contact between the Old and the New Worlds that resulted in this ecological revolution.The Columbian Exchange greatly affected almost every society on earth, bringing destructive diseases that depopulated many cultures. Nearly 80 percent of the native population of the Americas was wiped out from the introduction of European diseases.

The contact between the two areas also circulated a wide variety of new crops and livestock. Maize and potatoes became very important crops in Eurasia by the 18th century. Manioc and the peanut flourished in tropical Southeast Asian and West African soils that otherwise would not produce large yields or support large populations.This e xchange of plants and animals transformed European, American, African, and Asian ways of life. One third of the crop value within the United States depends on foods that were first grown in the Americas. Before regular communication had been established between the two hemispheres, the varieties of domesticated animals and infectious diseases, such as smallpox, were strikingly larger in the Old World than in the New. This led, in part, to the devastating effects of Old World diseases on Native American populations.The Indian population was terrified of small pox, “for a sorer disease cannot befall them; they fear it more than the plague; for usually they that have this disease have them in abundance, and for want of bedding and lining and other helps, they fall into lamentable condition, as they lie on their hard mats, the pox breaking and mattering, and running on into another, their skin cleaving to the mats they lie on; when they turn them, a whole side will flee off at once, and they will be all of a gore blood, most fearful to behold; and then being very sore, what with cold and other distempers, they die like rotten sheep.

The smallpox epidemics probably resulted in the largest death toll for Native Americans. Scarcely any society on earth remained unaffected by this global ecological exchange. The Columbian Exchange explains why Indian nations collapsed and European colonies thrived after Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492.

The Columbian Exchange helped the European nations quickly became the wealthiest and most powerful in the world. New food crops and animals became part of the economy, including the potato.They imported goods from America along with pre-existing products. The European population increased by around 20% which resulted in a faster increase of urbanization. They exported wheat, sugar, rice, coffee beans, horses, cows, and pigs to the Americas. In the Americas massive populations were infected with smallpox, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, and influenza. In the Aztec empire, the population declined by twenty million people within the first century of rule by the Spanish people ending with a total of 1 million people spared.During the three-hundred year period one-hundred million people died.

New agricultural products and domestic animals arrived during the diffusion of the Columbian Exchange. Large amounts of people migrated and arrived from Europe and Asia. Enslaved Africans were traded for different kinds of goods. The native people were forced to work in mines by the Spanish, and would eventually lose their land to Europe as a whole. They exported corn, potatoes, beans, and cocoa beans, tobacco, gold, and silver to Europe.The Europeans in America gathered slaves to produce free labor which equaled 100% profit for the settlers.

They exported slaves to make goods to Europe such as tropical foods, sugar, cotton etc. There role in the triangle trade was that they had a free workforce that produced goods for 100% profit and exported them which helped them gain enough money to buy more slaves or invest in other things. They kick started their economy through agriculture then also had the wealth to invest into the industrial revolution and prevail. This was the western world at its beginnings.Africa was affected by the Columbian Exchange and was the start of slave trading. The Europeans would export humans, gold and other natural minerals out of Africa.

The Africans would exchange humans for raw materials, which caused its population to stagger and communities to become ghost towns. The African people were captured and enslaved and traded to Europe. “As soon as the wretched Africans, purchased at the fairs, fall into the hands of the black traders, they experience in earnest those dreadful sufferings which they are doomed in future to undergo.And there is not the least room to doubt, but that even before they can reach the fairs, great numbers perish from cruel usage, want of food, traveling through inhospitable deserts, etc. ” The African people fled into regions for safety of capture into the mountains or deep forest. Africa was always at war with itself, it had rich leaders and poor populations because the leaders or Kings were the ones trading for themselves the populations only lived in fear from becoming slaves the leaders were exporting humans in exchange for guns, alcohol, etc.Africa’s part in the triangle trade was devastating to the continents economy, eventually all kingdoms involved in the trade collapsed allowing Europeans to easily take over this was Africa demise in its beginnings. In the Columbian Exchange, ecology became destiny.

Powerful environmental forces, understood by no one alive at the time and by very few people even today, determined who would thrive and who would die. And that may be the most shocking truth revealed to those who take the time to understand the Columbian Exchange: we, as humans, cannot always control our own destinies.The most important historical actors in this story are not Christopher Columbus or Moctezuma or Hernan Cortes. They are the smallpox virus, the pig, the potato, and the kernel of corn.

The history of the European voyages of exploration may be conveniently divided into two areas: the drive to the East, which was pioneered by the Portuguese and the expansion, westwards across the Atlantic to the New World, which was initially led by the Portuguese but eventually dominated by the Spanish. The two differ in that Europe had known of India and China for centuries, whereas the existence of America was totally unsuspected.When Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492, America was still viewed as little more than a barrier between Europe and the true prize of the Indies in the East. The odds were against the European explorers who sailed in frail wooden ships and were guided by crude and primitive instruments into uncharted seas, where shoals were unmarked and shifting currents were a perpetual mystery. These challenges of exploration were great but so were the motivations: a lust for gold and glory, missionary zeal for converting the “savage”, and the desire to gain knowledge.

Although Portugal and Spain had both developed seafaring traditions over the previous three centuries, neither one was prepared, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, for the imminent age of discovery, exploration, and worldwide commercial development that required knowledge and skills that greatly surpassed the existing resources available. The following sections examine the progress made by the Europeans in addressing these logistical obstacles to their efforts at exploration.