The Columbian Exchange

Few events have done as much to transform the world as the Columbian Exchange. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a wide range of biological products--plants, animals, humans, and diseases--traveled between Afroeurasia and the Americas for the first time. Some of these journeys between the “Old World” and “New World” were intentional: Europeans headed to the Americas in ships laden with familiar foods and animals, such as sheep and wheat, and returned with a host of new crops, some of which eventually became staple foods, like potatoes. Other transfers happened less deliberately, for example, as diphtheria moved West and syphilis moved East. In all of these cases, the effects were profound.

From tomatoes to typhus, these newly-mobile organisms had massive impacts for people living on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe and the Americas, new crops flourished, sometimes producing great nutritional and monetary wealth, and sometimes wreaking environmental havoc. Novel economic arrangements also formed, intimately linking the Old and New Worlds in a web of ocean-going trade unlike anything the world had seen before. In population terms, Europeans proved the chief beneficiaries, while populations in the Americas and Africa were decimated by disease and enslavement.

The Columbian Exchange Project gives students the opportunity to get to know this transformative moment in world history by investigating an individual plant, animal, or pathogens. Participants will investigate how a particular organism functions, and how it changed the society, culture, economy, and environment of its new home. Along the way, students will be challenged to bring together information and skills gained in both their biology and history classes. Ultimately, this work will help equip participants to critically address today’s debates about inequality, sustainability, and globalization.

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This is a scientific and social poster about the role of syphilis in the Columbian Exchange.

Coffee Bean

Coffee Bean.pdf

This is a scientific and social science poster about the role of the coffee bean in the Columbian Exchange.