WHP Lesson 28: The Columbian Exchange

Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Americas created new pathways of exchange between Afro-Eurasia and the Americas—for better or for worse. These exchanges gave the Irish potatoes and the Italians tomatoes, but also led to diseases and invasive species that decimated populations in the Americas. Overall, the global population rose, but for many communities on both sides of the Atlantic, the Columbian Exchange was a disaster. In particular, the devastating nature of the Transatlantic slave trade is stark reminder of the drawbacks of the Columbian Exchange.

Driving Question: What were the benefits and drawbacks of connecting both sides of the Atlantic? 

  • In the late 15th century, the two hemispheres of the world were connected. This connection created the Columbian Exchange, which radically changed life for just about everyone on the planet. Christopher Columbus generally gets the credit for making this a lasting connection, even though he wasn’t really the first one to travel across the Atlantic. After Columbus, the connections between the two hemispheres became permanent and the networks that tied them together thickened—more people, more goods, and more species travelled back and forward.
  • This created the first global network, and this had a huge effect on many people’s lives.  Some of them were good, and some of them were disastrous. Overall, life was just very different when we consider what happened before and what came after the Columbian Exchange

Word of the Day: Demography

  • Definition: Demography is the mapping or charting of changes in human population.
  • It includes the number of people in a certain area, but can also include factors like age, gender, and background. Demographic change was tremendous after the Columbian Exchange.


  • Read “The Columbian Exchange” in Lesson 5.3 on Khan Academy 
  • Think about what changes were the most dramatic and how they shaped the world we live in today. 

Historian’s Journal Prompt

  • Do you think we should try to become more self-sufficient individually and less dependent globally to prevent a similar situation in the future?
  • The global economy is taking a big hit because of COVID, and one of the reasons this is happening is because we are so interconnected. But what would happen if we weren’t so interconnected?