The 10th Grade POL

Simone Schwartz

What  does it mean for something to be a true exchange? The dictionary defines an exchange as “an act of giving one thing and receiving another (especially of the same type or value) in return.” What can that tell us about the legacy of the Columbian Exchange? The Columbian Exchange describes the exchange of crops, plants, diseases, and culture from The Old World (Europe), to the New World (the Americas), but should it even be considered an exchange considering how indigenous populations were disproportionately affected by the arrival of diseases and many becoming enslaved by Europeans? The tenth grade POL required us to think deeply about these questions. Friday, January 8th was the tenth grade presentation of learning to conclude our expedition, “Ethics of Exchange” where we conducted research projects about the legacy of the Columbian Exchange. 

A variety of different topics were researched, including but not limited to, diseases, crops such as the potato, cocoa, the fur trades, and more. However, the “diseases” and “crops” alone are vague topics considering that different diseases were spread across various places such as Smallpox in the Aztec Empire, Hispaniola, etc. Since the tenth grade had to come up with research questions, although topics may have overlapped, each student had a different perspective or area of that topic that they wanted to study. Yelnur Abdushev conducted his research project about the impact of Smallpox on the Aztec Empire: “I researched how the Aztec empire was affected by smallpox disease. The smallpox was a major catalyst that caused smaller catalysts to emerge, that led to the Fall of the Aztec Empire.”. Mirella, while also studying smallpox, took a different approach and conducted her research project about how Smallpox impacted Honduras and modern day Honduras. “How did the Smallpox pandemic of the 15 and 1600s affect modern day Honduras?” 

Given the various topics we were able to explore, We were able to connect our personal interests to our research project. “I picked my topic because I’m very interested in politics, international relations, the psychology of how people’s mental health were impacted, and the development of society from the smallpox pandemic…It was very interesting to me especially since it (immigration and migration) was talked about constantly in the news,” stated Mirella.

Throughout the project, there were many interesting facts that 10th graders learned about their topics. 

During the POL, the tenth grade had the opportunity to present their learning to their peers in small groups. What I found really fascinated was how many of us researched completely different topics ranging from the Smallpox pandemics, to the introduction of Cocoa, to fur trades, and more. We got the chance to ask each other questions about our research, and really celebrate all of our hard work.

All of the projects related to the idea of what makes for a true exchange. “It was a true exchange but it wasn’t a fair exchange. A fair exchange means that both sides benefited equally from it. If you are considering an exchange to be of something of the same type of value, (as stated in the dictionary, then it would not be an exchange, but it really depends on your definition of exchange.”

One of the biggest takeaways that I found from this project is that it’s okay, and in fact it should be encouraged, to question your sources of information. Many sources have biases, whether that be towards a specific audience, a political stance, etc. While one source may refer to the Columbian exchange as any other fair transaction where something is given and they receive something of the same value in return, others may say the opposite, regarding how indigenous populations were negatively impacted by disease and slavery, While Europeans gained new crops, land because diction can really influence our perception of history.