The Columbian Exchange

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The Columbian Exchange The term Columbian Exchange refers to the transfer of peoples, animals, plants, and diseases between the New and Old Worlds. Old World diseases that entered the Americas with the European immigrants and African slaves devastated indigenous populations. These dramatic population changes weakened native peoples’ capacity for resistance and facilitated the transfer of plants, animals, and related technologies. I. Demographic Changes o Because of their long isolation from other continents, the peoples of the New World lacked immunity to diseases introduced from the Old World. As a result, death rates among Amerindian peoples during the epidemics of the early colonial period were very high. o Smallpox was the most deadly of the early epidemics. In Mexico and Central America, 50% or more of the Amerindian population died during the first wave of smallpox epidemics. The disease then spread to South America with equally devastating effects. o Measles arrived in the New World and was followed by, diphtheria, typhus, influenza, and perhaps pulmonary plague. o By the mid-seventeenth century, malaria and yellow fever were also present in tropical regions. The deadliest form of malaria arrived with the African slave trade. II. Transfer of Plants and Animals o Even as the epidemics swept through the indigenous population, the New and Old Worlds were participating in a vast exchange of plants and animals that radically altered diet and lifestyles in both regions. o All the staples of European agriculture [wheat, olives, grapes, garden vegetables], were being grown in the Americas in a remarkably short time after contact. African and Asian crops [rice, bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, sugarcane], were soon introduced as well. o Native peoples remained loyal to their traditional staples, but added many Old World plants to their diet. Citrus fruits,
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