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What were the positive and negative outcomes of the Columbian Exchange?

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Quick Answer

Positive outcomes of the Columbian Exchange include technological advances in farming, architecture, and weaponry, whereas negative outcomes include disease and the oppression of indigenous Americans. It refers to the period of cultural and ecological exchange that occurred between Europeans and indigenous Americans.

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Full Answer

The Columbian Exchange started with Christopher Columbus's landing on the shores of San Salvador in 1492. European exploration of and expansion into what they called the New World influenced changes in technology, farming, disease and cultural life for both Europeans and indigenous Americans. These changes had multiple effects, both positive and negative. In fact, what is viewed as a "positive" versus a "negative" outcome in the absolute is widely debated in the historical literature.

For example, one cited positive outcome of the Columbian Exchange is that Europeans introduced indigenous Americans to technological advances in firearms and weaponry. However, such a view assumes that indigenous Americans were uncultivated, unadvanced and uncivilized prior to European arrival, a view that lay historian Charles C. Mann challenges in his popular book, 1491. Mann shows instead that indigenous Americans, rather than being primitive, simply had no need for the kind of firearms technology Europeans had developed.

However one unambiguously negative outcome of the Columbian Exchange is that disease epidemics spread among Europeans and indigenous Americans alike. These epidemics were caused by lack of exposure to particular ailments. While Europeans were affected in large numbers by New World diseases, indigenous Americans suffered genocide as a result of the diseases they were exposed to, which included smallpox and measles.

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