11.6 Effects of Global Contact

The European voyages of exploration in the 1500s and 1600s set off a chain of events that brought major changes to the world. Over the next centuries, European exploration and expansion overseas affected people from Asia, Africa, and the Americas to Europe itself.

Illustration of a city harbor with large and small ships in port, with people loading goods.

This 1592 engraving shows ships preparing to leave Lisbon, Portugal, bound for Asia and the Americas.


  • Explain how European exploration led to the Columbian Exchange.
  • Explain new economic factors and principles that contributed to the success of the commercial revolution.
  • Understand the impact of mercantilism on European and colonial economies.

Key Terms

  • Columbian Exchange
  • inflation
  • price revolution
  • capitalism
  • entrepreneur
  • mercantilism
  • tariff
  • Commercial Revolution
  • free enterprise system

The Columbian Exchange

A Global Exchange

When Columbus returned to Spain in March 1493, he brought with him plants and animals that he had found in the Americas. Later that year, Columbus returned to the Americas with some 1,200 settlers and a collection of European animals and plants. In this way, Columbus began a vast global exchange that would profoundly affect the world. Because this exchange began with Columbus, we call it the Columbian Exchange.

Exchanging Foods and Animals

In the Americas, Europeans found a variety of foods that were new to them, including tomatoes, pumpkins, and peppers. They eagerly transported these to Europe. Two of these new foods, corn and potatoes, became important foods in the Old World. Easy to grow and store, potatoes helped feed Europe's rapidly growing population. Corn spread all across Europe and to Africa and Asia, becoming one of the world's most important cereal crops.

Europeans also carried a wide variety of plants and animals to the Americas, including wheat and grapes from Europe and bananas and sugar cane from Africa and Asia.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments