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Big Era Six: Landscape Unit 6.2

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The Columbian Exchange and Its Consequences
1400 - 1650 CE

Why This Unit?

During the period 1492-1650, America was the site of developments that would later have great importance not only for that continent but also for Afroeurasia and indeed the whole planet.

The Columbian Exchange was linked to demographic, economic, and power-distribution changes. At this time and place emerged the seeds of American wealth, European imperialism and economic domination, and what we call globalization. However, these did not flower, let alone bear fruit, until hundreds of years later.

Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1. Analyze the causes and severity of Native American mortality rates from 1500 to 1650

2. Describe the contributions of Afroeurasia and the Americas to the biological exchanges of plants, animals, humans, and germs initiated by the permanent linking of these two regions.

3. Explain the consequences for global trade of linking America and Afroeurasia with each other.

4. Evaluate the moral significance of a) massive die-off of American Indian populations in the period 1500-1650 and b) the trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

5. Assess documentary and numerical evidence for reliability, and explain reasons for serious disagreements among historians about the size of Native American populations before and after contact with newcomers from Afroeurasia.


Time and Materials

This unit is versatile. The variety and number of student readings, discussion questions, and activities provided are meant to give teachers the choice to use those most suited to their students, interests, and circumstances.

Time taken will vary depending on teachers’ selections of the materials provided, on how long is spent on them, and on whether the Student Handouts and some of the activities can be assigned as homework.

Each of the two Lessons, and even parts of each, could be used alone. The basics could be covered with Student Handouts 1.1, 2.1, and 2.3, and a choice from among their associated questions and activities, in two to three forty-five-minute class periods. Using Student Handouts 1.2 and 1.3 and their questions and activities could be tailored to an additional class period, as could Student Handout 2.4 with its questions and activities.

No materials are needed other than pencil and paper.

Table of Contents

Why this unit?


Time and materials


Unit objectives




The historical context


This unit in the Big Era time line


Lesson 1: The Great Dying

Lesson 2: Animals, Plants, People, and Goods on the Move
This unit and the Three Essential Questions
This unit and the Seven Key Themes
This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking
Correlations to National and State Standards
Conceptual links to other lessons

Complete Teaching Unit in PDF format

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