Interaction and Change: Global Significance of Columbian Exchange

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The expeditions held by Christopher Columbus were able to change the world as we know it. The Columbian Exchange was able to give rise to “an interacting Atlantic world that permanently connected Europe, Africa and North and South America”. Intended at first to find a shorter route to Asia through the sea, Columbus had accidentally stumbled upon new lands inhabited by the natives. When people think of the discovery of the Americas, they only focus on the interactions and the impact it had on its own lands; however, there is more to it than this. For example, this discovery was able to contribute to the world in forms of objects and helping economies grow in time. On the other hand, other countries were negatively impacted, especially when it came to slavery. This paper states and argues the global and significant impact of the Discovery of The Americas, and how the bringing of religion, silver, slavery, and the Fur Trade help change the course in history.

The new lands discovered by Christopher Columbus and other explorers gave the opportunity for other great countries, mostly Europe, to conquer and colonize these lands. Some of the ideas that were spread had to do with religion. It was during the time of the Age of Exploration that many missionaries wanted to spread Christianity and Protestantism. In Latin America, the Spaniards took over Tenochtitlan, defeating the great Aztec Empire as well as the Incas in the south. By 1700 or earlier, many of the natives had decided to convert to Christianity, “after all, other conquerors such as the Aztecs and the Incas had always imposed their Gods in some fashion on defeated peoples”.

For women, there was a different outcome. Even though there were some saints who were women, they had no important roles in the church besides the Convent. Meanwhile, in North America, there was a different goal set aside by the Puritans; they had focused more on education and personal relationships with the faith. Latin America was heavily influenced by Christianity and there is no doubt that without the addition of North and South America, Christianity would not have been the world's largest religion.

One of the most important items in the discovery of the Americas was silver; this metal was able to transform China and give rise to the global network exchange that extended across the globe. It was first discovered in modern-day Bolivia. During the late 1500s and early 1600s, most of the silver from South America ended up in China, later to be known as “The Silver Drain”. Silver had become so valuable that following its discovery, the Chinese Government required all of its population to pay taxes only in silver. Historians suggest that “China’s role in the silver trade is a useful reminder of Asian centrality in the world economy of the early modern era”. The Chinese population “increasingly operating within a silver-based economy, fueled global commerce, vastly increasing the number of goods exchanged and the geographic range of world trade”. Across the world in Spain, they had developed a silver coin that was used in India, Russia and West Africa; it was called a “piece of eight”. Silver was later discovered in Japan, helping military dictators or shoguns unite the country by overcoming the lords who had turned against them. Not only did silver gain a remarkable reputation as a form of currency, but it also helped countries such as Japan unite and increase the economy in China. In my opinion, without the discovery of the Americas and its silver, China and Japan would have most likely taken a different path.

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In addition to silver, the Fur Trade was also significant on a global scale, providing fur to Europeans as well as Siberia and soon becoming a competitive trade. It was at this time that “the silver trade intersected with the fur trade, as Europeans paid for Russian furs largely with American gold and silver” Animals such as rabbit, beavers, and marten were the most common to be used and by 1500, diminished their population. Miantonomo, a chief of the Narragansett Tribe stated that “since these Englishmen have seized our country, they have cut down the grass and trees (...) and finally we shall all starve to death”. On another note, it was the Native Americans who did the hunting with the exception of some Europeans and Siberians. Most of the time, they would wait on the coast and then export them to Asia and Europe, as these countries possessed colder climates. Prices had become higher once fur-bearing animals had become so scarce; it also caused small wars between the French and English, making the Natives choose sides. Some people may say that the Fur Trade in North America had little impact during this time. However, it was the addition of the fur in North America that helped provide more supply to colder countries as well as connect other countries with Americas gold and silver.

With the discovery of the Americas came new and bigger societies. Having bigger and new societies meant that there was more labor to be done, whether it was being a butcher, dressmaker or even a slave. I would like to argue that slavery was one of the most important components in the global network exchange connecting powerful empires. Roughly 10.7 million slaves were transported from African societies to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth century through the Transatlantic Slave System. Even though it benefited the new world in many ways, the Europeans and African Elite were able to gain profit from slavery since they were the ones transporting and selling slaves. Many assume that it was the Europeans capturing slaves, however, it was mostly the African elite who enforced the selling of slaves. African merchants and politicians traded them in exchange for “European and Indian Textiles, metal goods, tobacco, alcohol, etc”. The most important of all were the Cowrie Shells from the Indian Ocean, which was used in West Africa as a form of currency. Consequently, slavery left a big impact on African Societies, for example, corruption and unbalanced sex ratios. Women had benefited the most from the difference in male to female ratios, for “the slave trade provided opportunities to excise power and accumulate wealth” as well as “operating their own trading empires, employing large numbers of female slaves, and acquiring elaborate houses”. In the end, slavery was able to change African Societies as well as provide a working force in the Americas.

Furthermore, contributions made by other countries can be seen throughout the history of the Western Hemisphere. One main object was contributed by China: gunpowder. Gunpowder was able to be transported throughout the different trade routes connecting Europe and China. It was only then that Europe was able to bring gunpowder to the Americas. Other well-known items included the different kinds of spices deriving from the Arabian Peninsula, which consisted of Africa, India and Asia. Some of these spices were pepper, ginger, and cinnamon “which were widely used as condiments, preservatives, medicines, and aphrodisiacs”. Most of the spices were brought to the new world through the Columbian Exchange in the late fifteenth century.

These are just some of the products that were transported. Whether it was physically or through a third party, mainly all of the countries at the time were able to leave its mark in the Western Hemisphere changing the course of the Americas. So, what was the Global Significance of the discovery of the Americas? Every country had the opportunity to leave something behind in the newly discovered lands, whether it was physically or through a third-party. As this paper states, there were many contributions that helped and in some cases left unfavorable outcomes for some. As a result, the discovery of the Americas was a major turning point in history, for it gave the opportunity to contribute, change, explore, as well as learn from each others culture.


  1. Strayer, R., and Nelson E. ​Ways of the World - a Brief Global History, Value Edition Thinking through Sources for Ways of the World, Volume 2​. Bedford Books St. Martin’s, 2018.
  2. Strayer, R. W., and Nelson E. ​Ways of the World: A Brief Global History with Sources; Volume 2: Since the Fifteenth Century​. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2019.
  3. Sylvester, H. ​Indian Wars of New England. ​Cleveland, 1910.
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Interaction and Change: Global Significance of Columbian Exchange. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
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