Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900

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Cambridge University Press, Jan 12, 2004 - History - 368 pages
People of European descent form the bulk of the population in most of the temperate zones of the world--North America, Australia and New Zealand. The military successes of European imperialism are easy to explain because in many cases they were achieved by using firearms against spears. Alfred Crosby, however, explains that the Europeans' displacement and replacement of the native peoples in the temperate zones was more a matter of biology than of military conquest. Now in a new edition with a new preface, Crosby revisits his classic work and again evaluates the ecological reasons for European expansion. Alfred W. Crosby is the author of the widely popular and ground-breaking books,The Measure of Reality (Cambridge, 1996), and America's Forgotten Pandemic (Cambridge, 1990). His books have received the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, the Medical Writers Association Prize and been named by the Los Angeles Times as among the best books of the year. He taught at the University of Texas, Austin for over 20 years. First Edition Hb (1986): 0-521-32009-7 First Edition Pb (1987): 0-521-33613-9

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In his book, “Ecological Imperialism: the Biological Expansion of Europe 900-1900”, Alfred Crosby gives a robust historical account of European imperial conquest in the places he calls Neo-Europes. He defines the Neo-Europes as places outside Europe, where European flora and fauna, including humans, supplanted native once, as a result of European colonial incursions between 900 and 1900. He differentiates the Neo-Europes from a place like South Africa, where Europeans only dominated politically, but could not transform the entire landscape to resemble that of mainland Europe. The crux of Crosby’s account is that European imperialism was successful in the Neo-Europes – North America, parts of South America, Australia, and New Zealand – in the scale that it did, not because of European military and technological might – as has been the dominant explanation – but because of ecological and geographical fortuity.
Crosby tries to answer the questions why and how people of the European race – unlike other races who are sited within given spatial gamut – are settled in various places, distant to each other, across the globe. Obviously, scores of people must have crossed the seams of Pangaea to these continents, but how? Crosby answers this question with a good history of navigation, which involves the discovery of the physical geography of the sea and an understanding of the global wind system – the key to the success of navigation. The discovery of the behavior of the oceans by the ancient explorers and the marinheiros made mass immigration possible.
With regard to how European flora and fauna came to dominate the Neo-Europes, Crosby gives credit to the climate as well as European weeds, and feral animals. Once the New World’s ecology had been disturbed, weeds of European descent shoved the native flora aside and created fertile grounds for European organisms to thrive. The argument is that weeds do well in lands that witness dramatic disturbances; hence, the grazing of European animals and the felling of trees for timber disturbed the new land – erosion. Weeds then took over these disturbed lands and stabilize them by covering up the soil against erosion and the scotching sun, creating much more fertile soil for European plants and grazing fields for European animals.
According to Crosby, the coup d'état that led to the obliteration of native populations in the Neo-Europes, and led a successful demographic take-over by Europeans, was not successful because of the brutality and superior weapons of the imperialist, but it was a concealed lethal weapon –disease – which they carried unknowingly that brought them victory. Native populations in the Neo-Europes lived in pockets of sparsely populated settlements, and largely engaged in hunting and gathering. This way of living made them vulnerable to new germs and diseases. The lack of success of European imperialism in places such as Africa and Asia, According to Crosby, was due to their resistance to European germs, and the presences of equally deadly disease, which the Europeans stood the chance of contracting. The explanation given for this is that Asians and Africans, like Europeans, lived in compact settlements with domesticated plants and animals, which exposed them on a constant basis to germs and diseases that developed from that way of living. As a result, they eventually developed some resistance to these germs and diseases. This comparison of the Neo-Europes with Africa and Asia, in my opinion, makes Crosby’s argument more plausible. If indeed, it was the superior weapons of the colonialist that led to the creation of the Neo-Europes, why was the situation different in Africa and Asia? According to Crosby, the natives of the Neo-Europes, already thinly populated, succumbed to European disease such as small pox, measles, dysentery, catarrhal jaundice, whooping cough, mumps, tonsillitis, and host of other diseases. Already weaken by diseases; the natives could not put up any meaningful resistance to European imperialism. In a

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Read some chapters seems outdated.globalisation is the correct word to use and invent.


List of Illustrations
Preface to the new edition
Pangaea revisited the Neolithic reconsidered
The Norse and the Crusaders
The Fortunate Isles
New Zealand
What was the smallpox in New South Wales in 1789?

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Page ix - The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonization of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known...
Page ix - The discovery of America, and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the two greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind.

About the author (2004)

Alfred W. Crosby is a Professor Emeritus in American Studies, History and Geography at the University of Texas, Austin, where he taught for over twenty years. His previous books include America's Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918, 2nd edition (Cambridge, 2003), Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology through History (Cambridge, 2002), The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600 (Cambridge, 1997). The Measure of Reality was chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the 100 most important books of 1997.

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