The primary goal of the unit is to focus on the European and American Exchange. The secondary goal of the unit is to teach students about the diseases of Influenza, Smallpox and Measles and their effect on the Native American population in North America. During medieval times, Europeans interpreted the Black Plague as a punishment from God for sins made by men. Fear and guilt became as much a part of the culture as death itself. People did not understand the causes of the problem and made it worse by not planting crops and using alcohol excessively. The illnesses that were prevalent in Europe ravaged the continent until the end of the seventeenth century. The Renaissance evolved as a means to combat the ignorance that had languished since medieval times. Once bacteria had been discovered, then scientists were able to link them and other organisms to the concept and formation of disease.1
Portugal, Spain, England, France and the Netherlands all played pivotal roles in the Age of Exploration. Portugal and Spain were the most active explorers of all the European nations. Prince Henry and Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain were instrumental in the support of exploration. It is worthy to note that the work of Prince Henry among others was dependent upon the learning and research of the Egyptians and Phoenicians. However, the explorer that has received the majority of the credit and fame is Christopher Columbus. The reason why I focus on Columbus is due to the fact that the exchange of animals, plants, agriculture and most importantly disease is historically known as the "Columbian Exchange." The exchange that occurred between the Old World and the New World is what effectively impacted the lives of futures of Native peoples on the North American continent.2
Disease can be characterized as any harmful change in the functions of the human body or any of its organs. Disease has played an important role in the development of human societies. Disease has transformed the way continents and people have developed over time. In fact much time has been spent trying to understand and control the various diseases that have affected human beings over time.
According to Ramenofsky, the three main diseases that have impacted the development of the North American Continent are Influenza, Smallpox and Measles. During my research, I have learned the viruses of Influenza and Measles can infect other hosts besides human beings. That is these viruses can live outside of the human body by affecting other animals. Conversely, smallpox virus requires human hosts for survival. In its enthusiasm, the organism often kills its human host. This pestilence creates its own predicament: it requires new hosts at regular intervals. The various influenza viruses must likewise move on, for if their victims survive, they enjoy a period of immunity lasting a few weeks or more.3
Influenza is a contagious infection that primarily affects the respiratory tract. Influenza is caused by a virus transmitted from one person to another in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air. It is characterized by cold like symptoms plus chills, fever, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue. Most people recover completely in about a week. But some people are vulnerable to complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia.4
Smallpox is a highly contagious viral disease that is often fatal. The disease is chiefly characterized by a skin rash that develops on the face, chest, back, and limbs. Over the course of a week the rash develops into pus-filled pimples resembling boils. In extreme cases the pimples run together usually as an indication of a fatal infection. Death may result from a secondary bacterial infection of the pustules, from cell damage caused by the viral infection, or from heart attack or shock. In the latter stages of nonfatal cases, smallpox pustules become crusted, often leaving the survivor with permanent, pitted scars. An infected person spreads virus particles into the air in the form of tiny droplets emitted from the mouth by speaking, coughing or simply breathing. The virus can then infect anyone who inhales the droplets. By this means, Smallpox can spread extremely fast from person to person. 5
Measles are an acute and highly contagious fever producing disease caused by a virus. Measles is characterized by small red dots appearing on the surface of the skin and irritation of the eyes. Coughing and a runny nose are additional symptoms. Twelve days after first exposure, the fever, sneezing, and runny nose will begin to appear. Coughing and swelling of the neck glands often follow. Four days later, red spots appear on the face or neck and then on the trunk and limbs. In two or three days the rash subsides and the fever falls; some peeling of the involved skin areas may take place. Infection of the middle ear may also occur. 6
According to Loewen, the original Native Americans entered the continent during the ending of the Ice Age. The temperatures were very cold and acted like a decontamination chamber. As Native Americans entered the continent, bacteria and microbes that need warmer temperatures to survive were probably destroyed.
During the Age of Exploration, the Native people were once again introduced to bacteria and microbes that they had never experienced. The unit will focus on the impact and the consequences of the Columbian Exchange. Students will also be able to identify and explain the effects of the Columbian Exchange on the populations of the Native Americans. In addition, students will also be able to identify and explain the role that Smallpox, Measles and Influenza played in the shaping of the North American continent. The North American continent would be transformed because the settlers not only survived immigrating to North America, but they also reproduced and established permanent settlements in various regions. Moreover, the impact of disease allowed the settlers to more easily compete with Native Americans for the lands, minerals and resources that they were so aggressively seeking.