© 2016 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
 
Teaching Guide

Teaching The Columbian Exchange

Shmoop will make you a better lover…of history.

GO TO STUDENT LEARNING GUIDE

The Columbian Exchange is a must-teach for any U.S. History class.

In this guide you will find:

  • a timeline activity of New World devastation. (Thanks, Columbus!)
  • current resources on disease and destruction.
  • discussion questions exploring the environment, the economy, and the culture.

We take our coffee with two creams, one sugar, and no smallpox. Thanks.

What's Inside Shmoop's History Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring history to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: American ideology has for centuries been infused with the belief that America is a special place with a special destiny. 

  • George Washington described the continent as a "conspicuous theater . . . peculiarly designed by Providence for the display of human greatness and felicity." 
  • Abraham Lincoln described America as "a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the position that all men are created equal," and more simply as "the last, best hope of earth."  
  • During the nineteenth century, millions poured westward in the belief that it was America’s "manifest destiny" to conquer the continent. And just as many poured into the continent in the belief that America was a refuge for "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." 
  • In the first part of the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson attempted to reshape centuries of European economic and political practice with his Fourteen Points. And later in the century, American presidents pledged to "support free peoples" in every country, on every continent where they faced threats to their liberties.

For centuries, Americans have nursed a sense of national uniqueness, but this sense of "American exceptionalism" was voiced from the start. 

In this activity, your students will examine the idea of American exceptionalism—its origins, its validity, and its place in our modern times. 

Length of Lesson: One class period + an optional writing assignment

Materials Needed:

Step One: Begin by having your students read (or reread) Shmoop's page on Ideology in the Columbian Exchange.

Step Two: Now focus in on the two quotes highlighted in this section (see below) and ask your students what is missing from these assessments of providential protection and blessing. 

If they have trouble coming up with an answer, offer them a hint: there's a bit of dramatic irony going on here. There's something we know, through the benefit of hindsight, that the speakers/writers of these words didn't know at the time. (Namely, that what they believed was divine intervention was ecology and biology at work.)

"Touching these savages, there is a thing I cannot omit to remark to you, it is that it appears visibly that God wishes that they yield their place to new peoples."– a member of La Salle's Mississippi River expedition, 1682

"For the natives, they are neere all dead of Small poxe, so as the Lord hathe cleared our title to what we possess."
– John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony

Step Three: Engage your students in a discussion of American exceptionalism using the questions below as a guide. 

  1. What do you think?  Is America a "special place?" Why or why not?
    • Does it have a special role in the world?
    • Does it represent something distinctive to the world’s people?
  2. Is this sense of America changing? Increasing? Diminishing? Why?
  3. Is this change due to things America has done?
    • Or are there larger forces at play? (i.e., globalization, growing European and Asian economies)
  4. Has this sense of American exceptionalism served America well or has it hurt America?
    • Has it made America an arrogant international bully and meddler?
    • Or has it made America a refuge, role model, and responsible world citizen?

Step Four (Optional): Help students reflect upon and synthesize the information they've gleaned from your class discussion by having them write a brief essay in response to the following prompt.

Ultimately, has the concept of American exceptionalism helped or hindered the United States' standing and reputation in the modern world?

(Lesson aligned with CA History-Social Sciences 9th-12th grade chronological and spatial thinking standard 1; historical interpretation standards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Instructions for Your Students

Historians have been debating the question of "American exceptionalism"—in other words, the question of whether America has a special or unique role in the world, or whether it's a "normal" country like any other—for a long time. 

Today, you'll take a look at this idea of American exceptionalism and consider its origins, its validity, and its place in our modern times. 

Step One: Begin by reading (or rereading) Shmoop's page on Ideology in the Columbian Exchange.

Step Two: Done? Great. Now focus in on the two quotes highlighted in this section (see below).

"Touching these savages, there is a thing I cannot omit to remark to you, it is that it appears visibly that God wishes that they yield their place to new peoples."– a member of La Salle's Mississippi River expedition, 1682

"For the natives, they are neere all dead of Small poxe, so as the Lord hathe cleared our title to what we possess."
– John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony

As you read these quotes, do you get a sense that anything is missing from these assessments of providential protection and blessing. 

Hint: there's a bit of dramatic irony going on here. There's something we know, through the benefit of hindsight, that the speakers/writers of these words didn't know at the time.

Step Three: Let's talk it out. Chat with your teacher and classmates about the concept of American exceptionalism using the questions below as a guide. 

  1. What do you think?  Is America a "special place?" Why or why not?
    • Does it have a special role in the world?
    • Does it represent something distinctive to the world’s people?
  2. Is this sense of America changing? Increasing? Diminishing? Why?
  3. Is this change due to things America has done?
    • Or are there larger forces at play? (i.e., globalization, growing European and Asian economies)
  4. Has this sense of American exceptionalism served America well or has it hurt America?
    • Has it made America an arrogant international bully and meddler?
    • Or has it made America a refuge, role model, and responsible world citizen?

Step Four (Optional): To help you really wrap your mind around the information you've gleaned from your class discussion, write a brief essay in response to the following prompt.

Ultimately, has the concept of American exceptionalism helped or hindered the United States' standing and reputation in the modern world?

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING THE COLUMBIAN EXCHANGE?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    
back to top