Digital History>eXplorations>Columbus & the Columbian Exchange

portion of a map by Sebastian Münster

1492 is the most significant year in modern world history. Not only did it bring the Old and New Worlds together, it also initiated a set of changes that would have vast implications for the future.

It contributed to the rise of the transatlantic slave trade and a vast movement of people, animals, food, plants, and diseases that would transform the world.


Alfred Crosby, Professor Emeritus, University of Texas at Austin stated:

"Millions of years ago, continental drift carried the Old World and New Worlds apart, splitting North and South America from Eurasia and Africa. That separation lasted so long that it fostered divergent evolution; for instance, the development of rattlesnakes on one side of the Atlantic and vipers on the other. After 1492, human voyagers in part reversed this tendency. Their artificial re-establishment of connections through the commingling of Old and New World plants, animals, and bacteria, commonly known as the Columbian Exchange, is one of the more spectacular and significant ecological events of the past millennium."

from History Now, Issue 12, June 2007

Essential questions:

1. What is Columbus's place in history?
2. What was the historical significance of 1492?
3. What is the Columbian Exchange?
(The trans-continental transfer of people, food, plants, animals, and pathogens)
4. Did Columbus's voyages add to or detract from human happiness?


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