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Columbian Exchange Essay Sample

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Columbian Exchange Essay Sample

On Christopher Columbus’s second trip he brought items with him from Europe. He planned to colonize the “New World”. This is what started, what is called the “Columbian Exchange”. The term Columbian Exchange came from Alfred W. Crosby in 1972, a social historian. Some of those items he brought were different types of livestock like; horses, pigs, cattle, sheep, goats, chickens and dogs. The livestock that was brought over could be considered a curse and a blessing. The livestock roamed freely and trampled the Indians corn fields and drive the wild game away. For the Navajo’s, sheep and goats became a permanent fixture in their lives. To this day the Navajo raise sheep and eat mutton (sheep) as a regular part of their diet. Nothing on this animal is wasted. They even eat the intestines (twisters) and stomach (tripe). Some of the food items they brought with them were fruit trees peaches and oranges, wheat and sugarcane.

Food items that were exports of the new world were potatoes and tomatoes. Potatoes became a staple in many European diets and tomatoes became a big part of the Italian cooking. Can you image Italian cooking without tomatoes? No pasta sauce, no dried tomatoes no pizza sauce? (Well not sure about the last one) Here in the new world the settlers incorporated corn into their diets. Another item that was brought over from Europe was diseases. Diseases like smallpox, bubonic plague and cholera. I’m sure some of these disease caused the Indians to think the invaders were cursed. For instance smallpox left boils on the body and left scars if they were lucky enough to survive it.

Indians had the tendency to be superstitious. That’s probably where the superstition about black cats being bad luck comes from. It wouldn’t surprise me…my Grandmother and my Mother were and are very superstitious. When my daughter was an infant and I was giving her a bottle, she would sometimes gasp for air because she was drinking her bottle to fast. When she would do this, my Mom would say “blow on her soft spot”. I am talking about the soft spot on the top of her head; all babies have this…of course doing this has nothing to do with anything but that is what my Mother was taught and her Mother before her! It took my Mom a long time to stop telling me this!!!

Finally one evening we were eating dinner at my parent house (we didn’t live at home anymore and we just all happen to be there) and my brother started to cough as he was eating. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to show my Mom how ridiculous this was. I told her “quick mom, blow on his soft spot”! We all laughed and it made my Mom furious! She never told me again to “blow on her soft spot”. My god we were all adults…I was 23 when my daughter was born and my brother was 21…this was 20 years ago and you would not believe some of the superstitious beliefs Indians still have.

A combination of all these things were what almost destroyed the American Indians. Diseases, slavery and war were what caused the Indian population to grow smaller and smaller. People wonder why the Indians left settlements like Mesa Verde and Bandelier. It could have been famine or diseases. They could have left the villages behind looking for food or to get way from an outbreak of smallpox.

Indians had their own society and government before the Europeans showed up here to claim and conqueror them. They lived and died and went on about their lives. Overall I don’t think the Indians benefited at all when this Columbian Exchange started. The Europeans benefitted in many ways; new foods, land and the Indians as allies. As you can imagine Indians don’t celebrate Columbus Day and some look at Thanks Giving the same way. Why did the Indians help the new settlers? Was it a mistake? If they had let them suffer and starve to death would more people have come? That just goes to show how peaceful and compassionate the Indians were.

They saw the settlers needed food and shelter and help them survive when they first settled here. I wonder what would have happened if the Europeans had failed in their attempt to take over the so called “New World”? Would there even be a United States? Would it be just one big nation of Indians? A nation of many different tribes, villages and languages? A nation of people who kept their traditions and pride over the hundreds and hundreds of years? People who raised their families and lived the traditional way? I’m sure technology and a modern way of life would invade the villages like it has all over the world but the elders would still insist on keeping some of the traditional ways…like they do now.

If you ever get the chance, watch a couple movies that give a small insight to how Indians live, think and their sense of humor. Thunder Heart and Smoke Signals are great movies…we joke about these movies all the time because they show the real Indians…”sometimes it’s a good day to die and sometimes it’s a good day to have breakfast”. In case you don’t understand it’s a quote from the movie Smoke Signals. It’s sort of a spoof of what Sitting Bull said “it’s a good day to die….” after having a vision of the Army invading and killing his people. This is in no way meant to be disrespectful of Sitting Bull…it’s just that Indian humor : )


Calloway, Colin G., First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, 3rd ed.


Calloway, Colin G., First Peoples: A Documentary Survey of American Indian History, 3rd ed.

Colin Calloway is a professor of history and has written many books on Native American History.

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