Columbian Exchange: Positive Usher to Globalization

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Throughout history, globalization has had its positive and negative impacts on societies and the environments they live in. It began when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. Determining whether the effects of globalization made it a positive force was difficult. There was a negative side to every argument, but the positive effects outweigh the negative by a long shot. Factors such as education, the Columbian Exchange, expanding territories, disease treatments, animal populations, and overall environmental impact are what prove that globalization was a positive force.

Before Christopher Columbus sailed the Atlantic Ocean, discovering the New World continents were mostly solitary. As the isolation deteriorated in Europe, Asia, and North Africa Europeans, thinking their way of life was preferable, would attempt to change the way of life for the people on those continents. As Alfred Crosby states those attempts failed, “It is really not surprising that Europeans failed to Europeanize Asia and tropical Africa.” As Europeans start expanding into the Americas, they discover it’s much easier to influence, and conquer, the natives. This is partially due to the effect of new diseases being introduced. “Disease as able to reach such tragic proportions in the Americas supposedly because it took root in the “virgin soil” of a population that had no prior exposure to Europe’s epidemics”. Once Europeans settled into an area, they’d begin Europeanizing and educating the natives.

The Columbian exchange played a big part in global expansion. It helped to spread crops, livestock, and merchandise that would otherwise be exclusive to their native countries. Old World diseases such as the bubonic plague, smallpox, influenza and others were brought to the New World by European settlers. While the infection, and probable death, of thousands of natives is not a nice thought, it was a positive force when seen through the eyes of the invaders. Europeans unknowingly used biological warfare in their efforts to expand to the Americas. In Spanish conquests, “The disease (Smallpox) exterminated a large fraction of the Aztecs and cleared a path for the aliens to the heart of Tenochtitlan and to the founding of New Spain”.

The people of the past know better than anyone how destructive diseases can be. While usually applied to physics, Newton’s Third Law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, applies to diseases. It was spread and millions of people were killed by them, but they forced medical researchers to take a closer look at how they worked. For thousands of years people believed that diseases had supernatural origins. According to Aberth, Hebrews and Greeks alike believed that disease came from God and that it served as a punishment or test for humans. but when researched further, it’s determined that disease is not caused by God, but by germs. After learning this information researchers were able to start looking for ways to prevent, treat, and cure diseases. By the 20th century medical discoveries were easily spread across the globe. An example: the discovery of penicillin.

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Smallpox while deadly in most cases, was one of the most valuable diseases in human history. The first ever public vaccine was demonstrated because of Smallpox. Referring to Dr. Edward Jenner’s vaccination of James Phipps in May of 1796; John Aberth explains, “This was by no means the first recorded vaccination, but it was the most influential”. Before Jenner’s Smallpox vaccine doctors used a similar method, called inoculation, to help patients build immunity to diseases. In the process of inoculation, a weakened form of a virus is introduced to a patient which causes a mild case of the disease in order to create immunity.

Globalization had a colossal impact on many animal species throughout the world. Without it horses would have stayed extinct in the Americas. About 9,000 years ago horses were extinct in the Americas, and only returned when Columbus brought several to Espanola in 1493. Easter Island is a small island and despite its size, “66 square miles”, had many small forests. It lacked a lot of the fauna present in the rest of Polynesia, and the few species native to the area were only available to the settlers due to the dramatic drop, and eventual disappearance, of their populations. Polynesian settlers brought over domesticated chickens, which served as their sole livestock source; since the island didn’t have any.

In the short history of humans there have been many events that have impacted the environment in some way. Many people say these events primarily negatively impacted the environment. During the Industrial Revolution people observed the disappearance of white Peppered Moths and an increase in black ones. They quickly attributed the color change to increased air pollution from factories. Without the negative of air pollution, we might have never discovered reversible color polyphenism.

Globalization is the reason that humans live the way they do today. History shows that it was a huge positive force on the world. Dr. Jenner’s Smallpox vaccine was a game changer, once the first one was created, many vaccines followed; of course, it took time to develop them, but the variety we have available to us today helps save millions of lives. The Columbian Exchange resulted in the spread of crops, livestock and merchandise, that otherwise wouldn’t be available. While expanding territories, Europeans would educate the native people; bringing people of different cultures together. Before the beginning of globalization, there were many extinct animals that had a revival of their populations because of imported animals. Globalization has played a big part in the awareness of humans’ environmental impact. When focusing on the big picture of life, it’s been proved repeatedly, globalization has been a positive force throughout history.


  1. Aberth, John. 2011. Plagues in World History. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  2. Crosby, Alfred W. 2015. Ecological Imperialism the Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. Diamond, Jared. 2011. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Penguin Books.
  4. Merriam-Webster. “Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's Most-Trusted Online Dictionary.” n.d. Accessed October 8, 2019.
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