These links demonstrate the structure of the course web site using menu, and further links to topics below.

Ecological History

Characteristics of Crosby: 1

Alfred Crosby & the lasting significance of the Caribbean invasion 1492-1522.


Crosby is one of seven authors who we examine because his research reveals the contingent significance, paradoxical character, and enduring influence of the West Indies and Central America on world history from an ecological perspective. That perspective reveals that nothing like the last five-hundred years had ever occurred in terms of population growth, surplus, and plenty.

"The first of a number of successes, explosive successes, in the production of sugar followed. By 1455, Madeira's annual output was over 6,000 Arobas , and the first sugar was exported from the island to Bristol, England the next year."

p. 77.

"In 1291, the Crusaders lost Acre, the last Christian stronghold in the Holy Land, and, coincidently, two Genoese brothers, Vadino and Ugolino Vivaldi, sailed out past Gibraltar into the Atlantic with the intention of circling Africa. Not surprisingly, they were never seen again."

p. 71.


The Caribbean as a crucible of world civilization.

The two facts Crosby alludes to above when viewed in historically reversed order (1445 and 1291) reveal the tentative character of European expansion westward and the time it had taken to establish a threshold of colonialism in an originally non European terrain. It had taken 160 years, more or less, to create a viable economy in these foreign, yet proximate Atlantic islands. In a similar span of time that elapsed after 1492 in the West Indies, those more distant islands underwent a revolution from which the Americas never recovered. A revolution that established Central America and the Indies as the richest European colonies had occurred within a generation but at a human cost unmatched since the failure of the Crusades. How this transformation of people, ecology, culture, biology and economy transpired and endured is the core of this history course.

Havana Cuba

Entry to the Havana harbor in the early morning.

"In the nineteenth century, the Neo-European populations soared not only because of immigration but also because their resident populations were enjoying the highest rates of natural increase these countries would ever achieve. Death rates were hearteningly low, and food plentiful and good by Old World standards, and the Neo-Europeans were gratefully fruitful and they multiplied. In North America in the eighteenth century and early nineteenth centuries, the fertility of the Neo-Europeans was among the highest ever recorded anywhere, as high as fifty to fifty-seven births per thousand inhabitants per year."

Crosby, Ecological Imperialism, p. 303.

" . . .the total value of all the agricultural exports in the world in 1982 was $210 billion. Of this the United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand accounted for $64 billion, or a little over 30 percent. They account for even more of the world's most important crop, wheat."

"The Neo-Europes' share of world grain exports – in fact, North America's share alone – is greater than the Middle East's share of petroleum exports."

p. 306.

Ours and their understanding of the world as a biosphere, "It is an understanding formed by their own experience of one to four centuries of plenty, a unique episode in recorded history."

What had been considered miraculous in ancient times, "in the New-Europes it is expected."

p. 307.

In 2010, for example the United States alone produced 38 percent of the corn for grain, 34 percent of the soybeans, and just over 9 percent of the world's wheat. With respect to exports the US exported over half the corn in the world, 44 percent of the soybeans and 41 percent of the cotton in world trade. About one fifth of all the agricultural products grown in the United States are exported. These include significant crops of native or indigenous origin.

US Bureau of the Census. "Agriculture" Selected Commodities & Export data. 2012.

U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012, p. 548.


Ecological history is concerned with terrain, hydrology, economic geography, population, disease, health, and natural areas when viewed in light of the food and energy supplies utilized by people for societies to endure. "By focusing on human universals like death and disease, his studies highlight the epidemic rather than the epiphenomenal."

p. vii, Kevin Reilly, Introduction

Alfred Crosby, Germs Seeds & Animals.


Classic dualism

Crosby uses an ancient approach to argument called "a dialectical approach," where a contrast between two opposite concepts is used to develop a huge association of very different subordinate ideas to make his case more precise, more logical, and most convincing.

1. Clarify - clarity what facts, evidence, and interpretation an author tells his readers.

2. What four things does Alfred Crosby say distinguishes ecology from history that so reveals Columbus importance?

Two versions of history as a practice of informing us about the past:






literal – meaning a vessel of metal or ceramic where under high temperature liquid metals are assayed, mixed, or reduced. Used in chemistry to hold heated materials.

figurative – meaning an occasion, place or situation where one of these two things happen:

      1. one undergoes a test or trial.
      2. where different elements come together to produce something new, or never before seen.

origins – [Etymology] Latin, cross, crucifixion – to fix to a cross


pathogens, population, plenitude, practices, principles, and products.



plenitude, abundance, ample supply of something:

Plenty of food in America was often ample to meet the health and sustenance needs of the fastest growing population anywhere in the world.

practices, brutality, enslavement, conversion, and hierarchic empires.

principles, Batholeme de Las Casas?

products, list the items traded:

Alfred W. Crosby's Books,
booksEcological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. London: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
The Columbian Exchange:
Germs, Seeds, and Animals:


Crosby's Caribbean

Two Dominant Approaches to the past have emerged: ecological versus epic (Bardic)

Biology, culture and history compared using Columbus journals, 1492-1517.

Crosby's underlying assumptions from Germs Seeds and Animals.

Crosby's ecological history of European hegemony in the world.

How did Europeans, especially coastal nations, succeed in subduing the world from 1450 until 1850?

Crosby's account, list of preindustrial Famines.

Crosby's chapters for Germs, Seeds, and Animal.

Maize, land, and character.

Crosby's Conclusions.

Caribbean overview

blue line

Question | Walcott | Crosby | Du Bois | Mintz | Paz | Keen & Haynes | Greene | Diaz | Kincaid

Crosby's perspectives.