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  This web module is designed to give students the opportunity to analyze a variety of traditional historical documents and develop a better sense of the process of historical interaction.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 decimated the first Americans and directly lead to the expansion of the European slave system.  Thus, a third continent. Africa, eventually was 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.

In this exercise the web module groups can assume that the documents they are studying constitute the best documents associated with the Columbian Exchange.  Each web module group is asked to review the documents through the framework of the questions and develop a written analysis.  This assignment is in three parts.


For the preliminary analysis of the Discovery and Conquest Documents do the following:

  1. Describe each of the document’s contents.
  2. Analyze what the documents tell us about their author.
  3. Why was the document created?

For the final analysis do the following:

  1. Building on your preliminary analysis, write a report discussing the various aspects of  the discovery and conquest process.
  2. Taking all the documents together what does your web module group believe was the most significant aspect of the Columbian Exchange?
  3. What evidence within the documents support your analysis conclusions.

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?

Organizing 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?

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 Document Organizing 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 maps 1,2,4, and 7 in New World section of the collection.

Related Web Site

1492: An Ongoing Voyage: