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

Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 is a 1986 book written by Austin, Texas Professor Emeritus of History, Geography, and American Studies Alfred Crosby , in which he explains the relative ease with which Europeans conquered the Neo-Europes was Due to biology rather than military conquest. It was based on his work on the Columbian Exchange .


Crosby begins by pointing out the populations of what he calls the “Neo-Europes” of temperate areas are primarily composed of European descendants . There are such large concentrations of Europeans in these lands which are so distant from Europe. Moreover, why have these locations been able to be routinely produce large food surpluses and why are many of these countries located in these regions to be among the world’s largest exporters of food? [1] [ page needed ]

Although Europeans have been reluctant to leave the familiarity of their homelands to a new life in the early 19th century, the Neo-Europeans experienced a great influx of European settlers between 1820 and 1930. According to Crosby, this mass emigration was This article explains the existence of “population explosion and propagation of cultivable land, national rivalries, persecution of minorities”, and “the application of steam power to ocean and land travel”. [1] [ page needed ] But what was so appealing about the Neo-Europes to the European expansion?

Crosby’s explanation for the success of European imperialists is biogeographical . Europe and the Neo-Europe all share similar latitudes . That is, Europe and the Neo-Europes “are all completely or at least two-thirds in the temperate zones , north and south, which are roughly similar climates “. [1] [ page needed ] This is important because of the plants and animals Europeans have traditionally relied on sustenance tend to require a warm-to-cool climate that receives 50 to 150 centimeters of annual precipitation to flourish. Therefore, just as farming was able to spread from theFertile Crescent , east and west, without much difficulty, replacing the hunter-gatherer lifestyle along the way, so was it able to the Neo-Europes. [1] [ page needed ] But before this could take place, because the indigenous flora and fauna in the Neo-Europes were different from Europe, the foreign biota brought to the New Worldby Europeans would have to compete with the local one to survive. This would eventually result in the complete devastation of the native floras and faunas. Crosby says: “the regions that today export more foodstuffs of European provenance – grains and meats – than any other lands on earth had no wheat, barley, rye, cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats whatsoever five hundred years ago”. [1] [ page needed ]

Rather than give credence to claims of innate European superiority and the like, Crosby explains the relative ease with which Europeans conquered the Neo-Europes as being a product of biological and ecological processes. One of the major contributors to European domination was disease , which is a natural byproduct of human interaction with animals. Therefore, when Europeans shifted from being hunter / gatherers to be farmers who settled in large, stationary communities and domesticatedsmall animals, they exposed themselves to conditions that would not be compatible with Neo-Europes. Some of these diseases have been mice, rats, roaches, houseflies, and worms that have been able to accumulate in these urban settings. [1] [ page needed ]

Because Europeans were living in an environment where they were in close contact with domestic animals and the germs that accompanied them, the same germs from which many of the devastating diseases of humans have sprung, they were constantly being subjected to disease. [1] And though millions of lives were lost when diseases like black death ravaged Europe during the Middle Ages , a natural consequence of these frequent epidemicswas a population that had built up a resistance to these diseases. Each epidemic would have been better than those who were biologically more capable of resisting the virus. After undergoing this process for a number of centuries, the entire population is at least partially immunized against immunological defense against diseases such as measles and smallpox .

However, because the majority of the native populations to the Neo-Europeans were still participating in hunting / gathering and did not interact with animals in the same manner as Europeans, they were never exposed to such diseases. Therefore, “When the isolation of the New World was broken … the American Indian puts the first time in his hands. . ” [2] [ page needed ] Because the Europeans arrived in the Neo-Europes with diseases that were absolutely new to those locations, they had an enormous advantage over the indigenous peoples and the consequences were overwhelming.

By 3,000 years ago, give or take a millennium or so, “superman, the human of Old World civilization, had appeared on earth.” He was not a figure with bulging muscles, nor necessarily with bulging forehead. of food and fiber, he knew how to tame and exploit several species of animals, he knew how to use the wheel to spin out a thread or make a pot or move cumbersome weights his fields were plagued with thistles and his granaries with rodents; he had sinuses that throbbed in wet weather, a recurring problem with dysentery , and enervating burden of worms, an impressive assortment of genetic adaptations and adaptations to diseases anciently endemic to Old world civilizations, and an immune system of such experience and sophistication as it would have been for all of us who would be tempted or obliged to follow the path he pioneered some 8,000 to 10,000 years ago.


In 2007, two Canadian writers applied to the Canadian North. [3]


  • Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 , 1986, ISBN  0-521-32009-7 (hardback), ISBN  0-521-45690-8 (paperback)
  • Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 , 2004, ISBN  0-521-83732-4 (hardback), ISBN  0-521-54618-4 (paperback)


  1. ^ Jump up to:g Crosby, Alfred W. Ecological Imperialism. Second ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 2004.
  2. Jump up^ Crosby, Alfred W.The Colombian Exchange. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003.
  3. Jump up^ Liza Piper and John Sandlos: A Broken Frontier: Ecological Imperialism in the Canadian North, in: Environmental History, Vol. 12, Nr. 4, 2007, S. 759-795

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