The Great Exchange

The Age of Exploration was the era during which explorers traveled to new lands and not only made exciting discoveries, but also helped develop a larger global economy. The people living on the continents of Africa, Asia, and Europe, known as the Old World, already had access to each other, but broadened their world when they explored the Americas, bringing with them their cultures, plants, animals, and, unfortunately, disease. In turn, the New World sent its cultures, plants, animals, and disease back to the Old World. This was the Great Exchange.

Early explorers such as Christopher Columbus set sail for Asia, hoping to bring back exotic spices, gold, and other goods to be sold. Spices were valued by Europeans, and the goal of the early explorers was to cut out the middlemen in India, and Arabia; by having a more direct route, spices wouldn’t be priced so high and more people could afford them.

When Christopher Columbus landed in America, he did not find the spices he was looking for, instead he found new products, encountered new cultures, and saw strange animals. Europeans thought this was a terrific opportunity to expand their borders, produce valuable commodities, develop new settlements for their crowded countries, and spread Christianity to the Native people in the Americas.

The Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English all began to mine silver and gold, grow tobacco and sugar, and send thousands of people to build settlements. The new settlers in America also wanted the familiar foods and animals from their homeland. When they brought these plants and animals from their homes to the New World, these new things changed the landscape, affected indigenous animals, and exposed Native American populations to new diseases.


Plants:Wheat, Rye, Oats, Coffee, Lemons/Oranges, Millet and Yams, Cotton, Sugar, Indigo, Tea, Rice (Old World & New World), Bananas, Beans, Cinnamon, Cloves, Ginger, Nutmeg/Mace, Pepper

Animals: Horses, Pigs, Cattle, Sheep, Goats, Chickens, Donkey, Rats, Rabbits, Honey Bees, Dogs, Cats, Turkey,

Disease:Smallpox, Influenza, Bubonic Plague, Typhus, Chicken Pox, Cholera, Cowpox, Measles, Yellow Fever, Malaria and many other diseases.


Plants: Rice, Peanuts, Beans, Cocoa, Potato, Maize/Corn, Pineapple, Chili Peppers, Tobacco, Tomato, Allspice, Ginger, Vanilla, Grapes

Animals: Honey Bees, Dogs, Llama, Gray Squirrels, Vine Aphid, Chiggers

Disease: Historians believe that tuberculosis, dysentery, and parasitic diseases were common in the Americas.

Source: The Great Exchange
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration

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