Sunday, March 17, 2013

Columbian Exchange

Following early explorers, we have moved to the EFFECTS of the Old World interactions with the New World. Enter the Columbia Exchange, both an incredible advance for the modern world as well as one of the greatest destructions of cultures and societies known in mans history.

During this section of history I delve into issues with my kids that may seem "beyond" their 5th grade understanding. However, through the years I have found them to have not only greater insight to many of these sensitive subjects than I had perceived, I have found myself learning more from their innocent observations of a sometimes cruel humanity.
I believe that it is important for students to see all sides of events that we, as adults with our own biases and viewpoints, tend to see one sided.

We talk a lot about the exchanging of ideas, cultures, and products between the New World and Europe. I remind the kids about what we have learned about Europe and The Americas at this time. ..
16th Century Europe:
  • Transitioning from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance 
  • Due to religious upheaval in many European countries (Reformation) there are lots of wars and instability occurring 
  • The Black Death has ravaged much of the Old World, disease is a constant friend and the average life expectancy is around 25-30 years old 
  • People are hardened to wars, death, dying because of the frequency it occurs
  • Because of their unity, Spain emerges as the country with the greatest investments in the New World and sends the most explorers 
  • Wealth and power are determined by your belongings and your land holdings 
  • New Technology is being developed: compass, astrolabe, improved transportation (particularly ships) improved weaponry
  • Europe has good trade connections with Africa and Asia 
  • Europe is becoming an advanced and modern continent and growing in wealth, comfort, and power ...
The New World: 
  • Native tribes live spread out through the continent 
  • Limited communication between the regional groups - unity is within the tribe or limited allies 
  • Cultures between the different regional groups are varied and unique to their environments and beliefs
  • Weapons and technology are still quite primitive compared to European standards 
  • Natives are generally quite superstitious in their religious beliefs 
  •  Beliefs about life center around the community and groups welfare not the individual 
  • Wealth is determined by people: your family, friends, people you lead 
  • Transportation is limited to canoes or small animals 
  • Natives have never had contact with other continents and therefore have no immunities to outside disease 
Enter Africa: 
  • Parts of Africa have made technological advances (particularly North Africa) but the majority of natives still live in isolated villages
  • Major focus is on family - ancestral worship
  • Have strong trade connections with Europe and parts of Asia 
  • Inter-tribal wars between villages due to jealousy, fear, misunderstandings 
  • Eastern Tribes have found more unity and have created larger kingdoms which impress European traders 
  • Tribal wars produce captives which in turn become slaves 
  • Slavery is not hereditary (children of slaves are free) and many slaves gain the opportunity to purchase their freedom or marry  
  • Slave trade is already is occurring within the continent - slaves being traded among Africans East and West, with Europeans, and with Muslim traders from the East
  • Gold is plentiful - salt becomes African "gold" 
These are all important things for kids to understand before diving into the clash of three worlds. It is not fair to simply give kids the impression: 
  • Europeans were the only cruel and greedy people 
  • Natives were always innocent and murdered by all Europeans 
  • Europeans captured Africans (out of the blue) and made them slaves based on color, etc. 
The truth is, Europe came out on top because it happened to be the most powerful of the three continents due to a multitude of reasons. This phenomenon was not because they were inherently more cruel, greedier, or more evil than other cultures. The situation was economic and the reality is that if either of the opposite continents had had the same opportunities for power, we could very easily be seeing history flipped 180 degrees today. The issue here is humanity and, sadly, that ultimately greed and power destroy, no matter what culture it comes from. 
To demonstrate all of this, I take the kids through a Columbia Exchange simulation: 
I put them in three groups = Europe, The Americas both North and South, and Africa. I give each group a map of their continent and an envelop filled with natural resources as well as man made items from their continent and culture. 
I then have them categorize  these items in any way they want. 
 Next, I explain that these items both manufactured and natural resources are what they had to trade with other countries and have them sort them in order of trade value. Then, the groups walk around the other tables and talked about what they would want from the other continent's list of items. It was fun to listen to their conversations of what they thought they could trade the other continent for! "We could give them 2 horses for maybe 2 carts of pineapples, but they would have to give us the carts to make it fair"











Then, we start the Simulation:
I explain that many of the items they have traveled "accidently" between the continents and required no trading at all. These items included many livestock that the Europeans brought over Coronado brought over pigs and they multiplied in the wild exponentially!, plants, and diseases - most notably Small Pox. For a visual, we connect the "continents" with red string when items were traded. To demonstrate the severity of disease upon the native population I have a "European Explorer" from the Europe table trade a picture of copper pots with a native chief for a few natural items. As the cards are passed I explain that the European had small pox and that three of the "natives" died of it They have to go sit at the "Table of Death".  Next, the Europeans discovered how well tobacco, cotton, sugar cane, and coffee grew in the New World and sent men to farm it more students head from the Europe table to the Americas table. They "hire" and enslave Native Americans, but every time they "shake hands" the "Natives" die from disease or run away to other tribes now there are 5 kids lying on the carpet. The Europeans now don't have anyone to help them in their fields ... so they send a trader to Africa ... who it must be noted, already have slavery occurring on their continent.  I have the African "king" send some people to a remote "village" and gather slaves for the Europeans and sent them to the "New World" table. Because of all the new products particularly corn and potatoes which are coming from the New World, people in Europe are living longer and healthier lives. Students who have "died" now go to the "Europe Table" as babies that are now living into adulthood. I then had students look at the items they had acquired through the triangular trade and categorize them. They recognized that the Americas were trading natural resources or raw materials with Europe who was in turn trading back manufactured items. Africa was trading the Americas and Europe Slaves mostly for rum and weapons. 
Native American Chief bowing before the European "god" - they thought of and acted this section out themselves after using their knowledge of the Native American's perspective shared in Encounter. 
Colonial Farmer and his Slaves working on a planation 
African Chief and his much too happy slaves 
Caribbean Pirate giving a sailor the choice of death or piracy! 
We also discuss how THIS is the time of pirates that we think of- why? Because here were loads of ships carrying in essence "free merchandize." It opens up great discussion as to where they were located Pirates of the Caribbean the west Indies and how some countries particularly England, hired privateers to raid Spanish ships that were heading back loaded with gold.
Later, when we went to fill in our graphic organizer, the kids could articulate to me exactly what was happening to the cultures in the different continents after this activity. It was really cool! 
For more Explorer lessons and activities visit the link below! 
Explorers
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