The Columbian Exchange

This exercise is divided into three related parts: Discovery, Conquest, and Mapping the World.  This web module is designed to give students the opportunity to analyze a variety of traditional historical documents and develop a better sense of the process of historical interaction. The Columbian Exchange was a complex process involving the population indigenous to present day Latin and South America and Europeans.  Involved were two different civilizations that would each influence the other in a variety of ways.  With discovery and conquest came a host of deadly diseases that would eventually decimate the first Americans and directly lead to the expansion of the European slave system.  Thus, a third continent, Africa, was eventually forcibly involved in this trans-Atlantic exchange.  For Europeans these new lands brought wealth for the few.  It also, with terrible results, granted unheard of physical power to these same few.  But there was another side, because the new world ironically provided a bounty of new foods that helped stimulate a population explosion in Europe and indirectly lead to further imperial conquests.


As you study the Discovery and Conquest Documents, ask yourselves the following:

  1. What are each of the document’s contents?
  2. What do the documents tell us about their author?
  3. Why was the document created?

Please answer all the following questions:

Questions for Discovery and Conquest

  1. What were the motives of European explorers and conquers?
  2. What role did religion and economic considerations play in the voyages of discovery and conquest of the Americas?
  3. How would you characterize Spanish rule?
  4. How did the Spanish view the New World and its peoples?
  5. Why didn’t the natives initially resist Spanish rule?
  6. How did the natives view the Spanish?
  7. Who were the heroes, villains, and victims?
  8. In what ways are the documents biased
  9. Taking all the documents together what do you believe was the most significant aspect of the Columbian Exchange?
  10. What evidence within the documents support your analysis conclusions?

Discovery Documents

Columbus’ Journal

Cortes’ Second Letter to Charles V (1520)

Letter to Phillip of Spain (1561)

Conquest Documents

Inquisition in 17th Century Peru

Aztec Account of the Conquest

Chronicles of the Incas

Map Analysis

  1. Respond to the questions about the maps.
  2. What do the maps generally tell us about the historical process of discovery and conquest?

Map Document Questions

  1. What do the maps collectively reveal about how Europeans viewed themselves and the world?
  2. Are there any political and/or cultural biases revealed in the maps?
  3. What the greatest inaccuracies shown in the maps?
  4. What parts of the world are most accurately depicted in the maps?
  5. By 1688 how much of the world was known to Europeans?

Map Documents

Rare Map Collection at the Hargrett Library, University of Georgia.

Analyze the following maps in the New World section of the collection.

Map 1544 A5

Map 1550 M8

Map 1587 M4

Map 1688 W5

Related Web Site
1492: An Ongoing Voyage

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