Al Crosby is widely recognized as one of the founders of two influential new fields: environmental history and global history. He popularized three key concepts tied to the history of the New World encounter after 1492—the Columbian exchange, virgin soil epidemics, and ecological imperialism—that have now infiltrated at some level even the most elementary history textbooks. This is one of the foremost instances in which events from Latin America and concepts from ecology have become central to world history narratives. These pioneering accomplishments required passionate struggle on his part: to find a place in the academy, to defend equity and inclusion in American society, and to draw attention to neglected histories around the globe.

He came from a middle-class background and grew up in the affluent Boston suburb of Wellesley, Massachusetts. From 1948 to 1952, he attended Harvard as a commuter student,...

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