Alfred W. Crosby

Alfred W. Crosby Jr. (January 15, 1931, Boston, Massachusetts – March 14, 2018, Nantucket Island) was Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University and University of Helsinki. He was the author of such books as The Columbian Exchange (1972) and Ecological Imperialism (1986). In these works, he provided biological and geographical explanations for the question why Europeans were able to succeed with relative ease in what he referred to as the Neo-Europes of Australasia, North America, and southern South America.

Alfred W. Crosby
Born(1931-01-15)15 January 1931
Died14 March 2018(2018-03-14) (aged 87)
Nantucket, Massachusetts, U.S.
Alma materHarvard University
Known forThe Columbian Exchange (1972), Ecological Imperialism (1986)
Scientific career
InstitutionsWashington State University
University of Texas, Austin
University of Helsinki


Crosby studied at Harvard University and Boston University.[1]

Crosby was an inter-disciplinary researcher who combined the fields of history, geography, biology and medicine.[1] Recognizing the majority of modern-day wealth is located in Europe and the Neo-Europes, Crosby set out to investigate what historical causes are behind the disparity, investigating the biological factors that contributed to the success of Europeans in their quest to conquer the world. One of the important themes of his work was how epidemics affected the history of mankind. As early as the 1970s, he was able to understand the impact of the 1918 flu pandemic on world history.[1]

According to Hal Rothman, a Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Crosby “added biology to the process of human exploration, coming up with explanations for events as diverse as Cortés’ conquest of Mexico and the fall of the Inca empire that made vital use of the physical essence of humanity.”[2]

In 1972 he created the term "Columbian Exchange" in his book of the same name.[3] The term has become popular among historians and journalists, such as Charles C. Mann, whose 2011 book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created expands and updates Crosby's original work.[4]

Crosby was also interested in the history of science and technology. He wrote several books on this subject, dealing with the history of quantification, of projectile technology, and the history of the use of energy. He said that the study of history also made him a researcher of the future. He was very much interested in how humankind could make the future a better one.[1]

He taught at Washington State University, Yale University, the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand, and twice at the University of Helsinki as a Fulbright Bicentennial Professor, most recently in 1997–98. He was appointed an academician by Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari. He retired from the chair of Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies of the University of Texas at Austin in 1999.[1]

Crosby’s hobbies included birdwatching and jazz, on which topic he could lecture with great expertise. He was married to linguist Frances Karttunen.[1]


  • America, Russia, Hemp, and Napoleon: American Trade with Russia and the Baltic, 1793–1812. Ohio State University Press 1965.
  • The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Greenwood Press 1972, Praeger Publishers 2003. Available in Spanish, Italian, and Korean translations.
  • Epidemic and Peace, 1918. Greenwood Press 1976. Republished as America's Forgotten Pandemic.
  • Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900. Cambridge University Press 1986, 1993, 2004. Available in German, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Greek, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean translations.
  • America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918. Cambridge University Press 1989, 2003. Originally published as Epidemic and Peace, 1918. Available in Japanese translation.
  • Germs, Seeds, and Animals: Studies in Ecological History. M. E. Sharpe 1994.
  • The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250–1600. Cambridge University Press 1997. Available in Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Swedish, Japanese, Slovennian and Korean translations.
  • Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History. Cambridge University Press 2002. Also available in Turkish and Japanese language translations.
  • Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity's Unappeasable Appetite for Energy. W.W. Norton 2006.

See also


  1. Saikku, Mikko (April 4, 2018). "Historian ja tulevaisuuden tutkija" [‘Researcher of history and of the future’]. Helsingin Sanomat (in Finnish). Helsinki: Sanoma. p. B 15. Retrieved April 27, 2018.
  2. Rothman, Hal. "Conceptualizing the Real." American Quarterly 54.3 (2002): 485–497. ProQuest. University of Washington, Lynnwood. November 1, 2006.
  3. Crosby, Alfred W. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1972
  4. de Vorsey, Louis (2001). "The Tragedy of the Columbian Exchange". In McIlwraith, Thomas F; Muller, Edward K (eds.). North America: The Historical Geography of a Changing Continent. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 27. Thanks to…Crosby's work, the term 'Columbian exchange' is now widely used…

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