All Subjects



AP World



Unit 4

4.3 Columbian Exchange

2 min readjune 21, 2020


Amanda DoAmaral

Before 1492, the Americas were isolated from Africa, Europe, and Asia. This is why the ancient civilizations are so fascinating because they all developed similar structures without knowing about each other. 
Columbus was an all around terrible human being that committed mass genocide, but he gets the namesake of this era because his voyage kicked off a new global trading system.
🎥Watch: WHAP - Columbian Exchange


Flow of Trade

The connection of the Old World (Afro-Eurasia) and the New World (the Americas) unlocked a massive flow of goods, people, ideas, and disease. New crops and livestock changed eating habits and largely increased the global population. However, the Americas suffered massive depopulation because of the spread of disease.
  • AfroEurasia to Americas → 🐎 🐖 🍚 🌾 🍇👨🏿‍🦲 🦠
  • Americas to AfroEurasia → 🌽 🥔 🍫 🍅 🥑 🍠

Atlantic Slave Trade

The Atlantic Slave Trade began immediately after the Portuguese arrived in Africa, but seriously expanded after Native American populations were decimated. Cash crops were profitable, but required a lot of labor. 
Indigenous communities were originally enslaved, but they were not a viable long term plan for free/cheap labor.
Disease wiped out most of the population and many that were left were able to escape because of superior knowledge of the land. 
The Atlantic Slave Trade was expanded to supply labor throughout the colonies. Africans were kidnapped, often with the help of local rulers, and brought to the New World. The most common destination for slaves was Brazil because sugar was so harsh to cultivate that the lifespan of slaves was extremely short (5-10% of slaves died every year). On the backs of millions of slaves, sugar eventually outpaced silver as the most profitable good at the time.

Where Slaves Went

Portuguese (mostly Brazil)39%
British West Indies (Caribbean)18%
Spanish (Latin America)18%
French (North America)14%
British Mainland (US)6%
Dutch West Indies (Caribbean)2%

African Diaspora

The African diaspora changed the culture of the Americas as slaves brought new ideas, foods, and languages. 
With over 1500 different dialects, most slaves did not share a common language, which meant that native tongues were lost over time. New languages developed as a blend of different dialects, such as Creole.
Music was a key factor for survival in many slave communities. This music would later influence many genres including gospel, blues, jazz, reggae, rock n roll, hip hop, and samba
The Columbian Exchange also had an enormous effect on the environment. As colonists expanded plantations, many regions suffered from deforestation, soil depletion, and a strain on water sources.

Was this guide helpful?

🔍 Are you ready for college apps?
Take this quiz and find out!
Start Quiz
FREE AP world Survival Pack + Cram Chart PDF
Sign up now for instant access to 2 amazing downloads to help you get a 5
Browse Study Guides By Unit
Document Based Questions (DBQ)
Historical Thinking Skills
Long Essay Questions (LEQ)
Regional Guides
Short Answer Questions (SAQ)
Thematic Guides
Unit 1: The Global Tapestry
Unit 2: Networks of Exchange
Unit 3: Land-Based Empires
Unit 5: Revolutions
Unit 6: Consequences of Industrialization
Unit 7: Global Conflict
Unit 8: Cold War & Decolonization
Unit 9: Globalization
Join us on Discord
Thousands of students are studying with us for the AP World History exam.
join now
Play this on HyperTyper
Practice your typing skills while reading Columbian Exchange
Start Game
💪🏽 Are you ready for the WHAP exam?
Take this quiz for a progress check on what you’ve learned this year and get a personalized study plan to grab that 5!
Hours Logo
Studying with Hours = the ultimate focus mode
Start a free study session
📱 Stressed or struggling and need to talk to someone?
Talk to a trained counselor for free. It's 100% anonymous.
Text FIVEABLE to 741741 to get started.
© 2021 Fiveable, Inc.