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The Columbian Exchange refers to the interchange of diseases, crops, and ideas between the New and Old World after Christopher Columbus’s initial voyage to the Americas in 1492. These biological exchanges changed the way of life for both Native Americans and the Europeans, impacting the social and cultural makeup of both sides. The discoveries of valuable metals and crops are perhaps the biggest findings for the Old World, and these encounters helped countries like Europe get out of the Middle Ages and into the years of Enlightenment.
However, the exchange not only brought gains, but also losses. The years of exploration and exchange following Columbus’s landing helped European nations in many ways, especially contributing to the development of the economy and population. Before Columbus’s expedition to the distant lands, Western Europe was an agrarian society, in which the people lived in family households.
The feudal lords ruled the land strictly, causing living conditions to be poor for the majority of the Europeans.
Most peasants and lowerclassmen survived on bread and porridge, seasonal vegetables, and rarely a piece of meat. In addition, one-third of Europe’s population died from starvation and diseases like Black Death. Still, however, productivity was increased by water mills, iron plows, and other new technologies. Under the Roman Catholic Church, and the pope, Europeans lived strictly religious lives. The Columbian Exchange helped bring Europe’s economy out from the depths and also aided food production, protecting Europeans from famine. The seemingly long years of these exchanges helped Europe’s economy for the better, even though much more money was being put into circulation.
The introduction of new staple crops like corn and potatoes brought in large sums of money and surpluses. Slave labor saved the European a lot of money, too. Trade and raiding the Indians, on the other hand, brought in valuable metals like gold or silver, furs, raw materials, and other goods.
Additionally, these trades caused for the advancement of ships and other large vessels, which created more jobs and opportunities, helping the economy grow even more. Tobacco, another crop from the New World, was so widely accepted that it became a substitute for currency in some areas of Europe. All of these social and agricultural enhancements assisted in the specialization of labor, eventually leading European countries into the Renaissance. Many of the exchanges that transformed the economy also reformed the population. Surpluses from growing crops saved the peasants and lowerclassmen from starvation. Since more people were able to survive, rather then dying from malnourishments, the population of European countries rose. The shipment of slaves, although not too large, also caused the population figures to go up.
At this point, European countries started to send people to the New World due to overcrowding; however, some diseases like syphilis arrived at Europe from returning the Englishmen. Although syphilis caused many deaths, it did not effect the overall population of Europe, and it was in no way comparable to the epidemics that were caused by immigration to the New World. Europe truly gained from trading and exploring the unexplored, virgin soil of the New World. They gained materials and crops, which helped boost the economy; be that as it may be, the Europeans also lost lives due to diseases like syphilis. All in all, the Columbian Exchange helped the economy, reformed the way of agriculture and education, and started the age of Enlightenment.
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