4.3 Columbian Exchange

5 min readjanuary 8, 2023

Amanda DoAmaral

Amanda DoAmaral

Dalia Savy

Dalia Savy

AP World History: Modern 🌍

577 resources
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4.3 Required Content

Thematic Focus: Humans and the Environments
  • The environment shapes human societies, and as populations grow and change, these populations in turn shape their environments.
College Board Learning Objective
  • Explain the causes of the Columbian Exchange and its effects on the Eastern and Western Hemispheres.
Historical Developments
  • KC-4.1.V – The new connections between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres resulted in the exchange of new plants, animals, and diseases, known as the Columbian Exchange.
  • KC-4.1.V.A – European colonization of the Americas led to the unintentional transfer of disease vectors, including mosquitoes and rats, and the spread of diseases that were endemic in the Eastern Hemisphere, including smallpox, measles, and malaria. Some of these diseases substantially reduced the indigenous populations, with catastrophic effects in many areas.
  • KC-4.1.V.B – American foods became staple crops in various parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa. Cash crops were grown primarily on plantations with coerced labor and were exported mostly to Europe and the Middle East.
  • KC-4.1.V.C – Afro-Eurasian fruit trees, grains, sugar, and domesticated animals were brought by Europeans to the Americas, while other foods were brought by African enslaved persons.
  • KC-4.1.V.D – Populations in Afro-Eurasia benefitted nutritionally from the increased diversity of American food crops.

What is the Columbian Exchange?

Before 1492, the Americas were isolated from Africa, Europe, and Asia. This is why the ancient civilizations are so fascinating; they all developed similar structures without knowing about each other. 
The Columbian Exchange was a period of rapid exchange of plants, animals, and diseases between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. This exchange was made possible by the voyages of exploration that connected the two hemispheres, beginning with the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
As a result of the Columbian Exchange, new plants, animals, and diseases were introduced to both hemispheres. Some of the notable exchanges that took place during the Columbian Exchange include:
  1. Introduction of new crops: The Columbian Exchange introduced new crops to both the Old World and the New World, such as potatoes, maize, and tomatoes. These crops had a major impact on agriculture and the food systems of both regions.
  2. Introduction of new animals: The Columbian Exchange also introduced new animals to both regions, including horses, cattle, and pigs. These animals had a major impact on transportation, agriculture, and the environment.
  3. Spread of diseases: The Columbian Exchange also led to the spread of diseases between the Old World and the New World. Many diseases, such as smallpox and influenza, had a devastating impact on the indigenous populations of the Americas.
  4. Cultural exchange: The Columbian Exchange also facilitated the exchange of ideas, religions, and cultures between the Old World and the New World. This had a major impact on the social and cultural development of both regions.
In the Eastern Hemisphere, Europeans introduced crops such as wheat, rice, and sugar, as well as animals such as horses, cows, and pigs. In the Western Hemisphere, Native Americans introduced crops such as corn, potatoes, and beans, as well as animals such as llamas, turkeys, and dogs.
Columbus was an all-around terrible human being that committed mass genocide, but he gets the namesake of this era because his voyage kicked off a new global trading system.

Flow of Trade

The connection between the Old World (Africa, Asia, and Europe or Afro-Eurasia) and the New World (the Americas) unlocked a massive flow of goods, people, ideas, and diseases. New crops and livestock changed eating habits and largely increased the global population, but the Americas suffered massive depopulation because of the spread of disease.
Specifically, what was traded and to where?
  • AfroEurasia to Americas (Old World to New World) → horses 🐎, pigs 🐖, rice 🍚, wheat 🌾, grapes 🍇, African slaves 👨🏿‍🦲, diseases 🦠
    • Disease vectors, such as mosquitoes and rats, were carried with diseases, such as smallpox, measles, and malaria.
  • Americas to AfroEurasia (New World to Old World) → corn 🌽, potatoes 🥔, chocolate 🍫, tomatoes 🍅, avocado 🥑, sweet potatoes 🍠

Atlantic Slave Trade

The Atlantic slave trade, also known as the transatlantic slave trade, was the trade of African people, mainly from West and Central Africa, to the Americas and Europe. It lasted from the 15th to the 19th centuries and is considered one of the most heinous acts in human history.
It began immediately after the Portuguese arrived in Africa, but seriously expanded after Native American populations were decimated. Cash crops were profitable, but required a lot of labor. 
Indigenous communities were originally enslaved, but they were not a viable long-term plan for free/cheap labor. Disease wiped out most of the population and many that were left were able to escape because of superior knowledge of the land. 
The Atlantic slave trade was driven by the demand for cheap labor in the Americas and Europe, particularly in the plantation economies of the Caribbean and the southern United States. Millions of African people were forcibly taken from their homes often with the help of local rulers, subjected to brutal conditions on slave ships, and sold as property in the Americas and Europe. It had a profound impact on the African continent, leading to the depopulation of some areas and the disruption of social and economic systems.
The most common destination for slaves was Brazil because sugar was so harsh to cultivate that the lifespan of slaves was extremely short (5-10% of slaves died every year). On the backs of millions of slaves, sugar eventually outpaced silver as the most profitable good at the time.

Slaves by Colony

Portuguese (mostly Brazil)39%
British West Indies (Caribbean)18%
Spanish (Latin America)18%
French (North America)14%
British Mainland (US)6%
Dutch West Indies (Caribbean)2%

African Diaspora

The African diaspora changed the culture of the Americas as slaves brought new ideas, foods, and languages. It refers to the widespread dispersal of people from Africa throughout the world. This includes the descendants of Africans who were taken from the continent as slaves and transported to other parts of the world, as well as more recent migrations of Africans to other regions.
With over 1500 different dialects, most slaves did not share a common language, which meant that native tongues were lost over time. New languages developed as a blend of different dialects, such as Creole.
Music was a key factor for survival in many slave communities. This music would later influence many genres including gospel, blues, jazz, reggae, rock n roll, hip hop, and samba
The Columbian Exchange also had an enormous effect on the environment. As colonists expanded plantations, many regions suffered from deforestation, soil depletion, and a strain on water sources.
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🐎Unit 1 – The Global Tapestry, 1200-1450
🐫Unit 2 – Networks of Exchange, 1200-1450
🕌Unit 3 – Land-Based Empires, 1450-1750
🍕Unit 4 – Transoceanic Interactions, 1450-1750
✊🏽Unit 5 – Revolutions, 1750-1900
🚂Unit 6 – Consequences of Industrialization, 1750-1900
💣Unit 7 – Global Conflict, 1900-Present
🥶Unit 8 – Cold War & Decolonization, 1900-Present
✈️Unit 9 – Globalization, 1900-Present
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