Topic # 1: Food and the Columbian Exchange

When Columbus set foot on the island of Hispaniola in October 1492, he began a complex process of interaction between the Old World and the New known as the “Columbian Exchange.” This process had a profound impact – both positive and negative – on both civilizations. Among the many aspects of European and Amerindian life that each encountered was food. The Spanish introduced  vegetation such as wheat, bananas, oranges and lemons, grapes, and sugar cane to the Western Hemisphere. The early European visitors also brought goats, sheep, horses, pigs, chickens, and cattle to the New World, with adverse ecological results, for as these animals roamed the ranges they destroyed the roots of plants and ate the leaves. On the other hand, as we have seen, the diet of much of the rest of the world was dramatically changed as vegetables and plants indigenous to the Americas were introduced to Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The earliest Europeans in the Western Hemisphere reveled at the foods the Amerindians grew, manufactured, and ate but noted the absence of familiar items. From Columbus to Cortes, they recorded their findings in great detail.

General instructions for the essay can be found on the first page.

Essay Assignment

Use the primary sources to answer the following question: How did Europeans view the societies they encountered in the New World? It is often assumed that Europeans thought themselves superior to the Indigenous people they met. What do the primary sources reveal with regards to Indigenous societies?

 Use the primary sources as your evidence, and the secondary source to contextualize the argument.

The Primary Sources for this assignment are the following:

Columbus and Hernán Cortés

Bernal Diaz