American Professor Alfred W. Crosby (1931–2018), Academician of Science, has passed away at the age of 87.
During his academic career in the field of environmental and global history, Crosby worked at several US universities, such as Harvard University and the University of Texas at Austin, retiring in 1999 as Professor Emeritus of Geography, History and American Studies. He also held teaching positions at the University of Helsinki. In 1995, the Academy of Finland awarded him the title of Academician of Science, which is the highest academic honour in Finland.
Crosby was a pioneering scholar who worked to explain and improve our understanding of human history. He is regarded as one of the leading founders of environmental history. In his work, he combined research results from history, geography, biology and medicine to explore, for instance, why Europeans had been able to succeed with relative ease in populating North America, Australia and southern South America. He was also interested in shedding light on why some early cultures failed and disappeared, for example due to inflammatory diseases and epidemics. These phenomena and their causes were the topic of his classic books The Columbian Exchange: Biological Expansion and Cultural Consequences of 1492 (1972), Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe 900–1900 (1986), and America’s Forgotten Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918 (1976/1989).
Crosby was a versatile researcher who was also interested in the history of science and technology. This interest inspired several works, such as The Measure of Reality: Quantification and Western Society, 1250–1600, Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History, and Children of the Sun: A History of Humanity’s Unappeasable Appetite for Energy. The historian Crosby described himself also as a scholar of the future, and his interest in shaping a better future lasted until his passing.
Based on nominations made by the Academy of Finland, the President of the Republic of Finland may confer the honorary title of Academician of Science to highly distinguished Finnish or foreign scientists and scholars. The title of Academician can be held by no more than sixteen Finnish scientists and scholars at a time. There are no restrictions on the number of foreign Academicians.
- Mikko Saikku, McDonnell Douglas Professor of American Studies, firstname.lastname(at)helsinki.fi, University of Helsinki
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