During the past millennium, the expansion of Europeans has altered the course of history dramatically. However, while majority of historians have focused on the European influence on culture, government, and other human or political affairs, Crosby (1988) explores how the expansion of Europeans altered life on earth literally not only by spreading their superiority, religions, and values, but also their diseases, animals, and plants. In this case, ecological imperialism is essential to understanding the potential environmental consequences of colonialism and their impact on history.
Crosby (1988) argues that disease was the most important factor in the death of native populations both in Europe and other regions conquered by the Europeans, rather than the latter’s superior weaponry. Indeed, while the Europeans were immune to some of the diseases they carried with them to new lands; the native populations were not immune, which decimated entire populations. Furthermore, the locations that European expanded into also played a critical role in Europe’s successful imperialist ventures. As such, Neo-Europe areas, which are at similar latitudes to Europe and thus have similar climate, enabled Europeans to export their plants and animals to the new lands. Since the Europeans could rear animals and plants in their new lands, this allowed them to sustain significant populations and produce enough food to export; therefore contributing to the success of Europe’s imperialist expansion into the new lands of Neo-Europe (Crosby, 1988).
In conclusion, ecological factors proved more important to Europe’s success as an imperialist force than the military advantage that the Europeans possessed. As a result, understanding ecological imperialism involving the spread of diseases, as well as European plants and animals, plays a crucial role in studying the history of how the Europeans managed to expand their influence into new lands. In this case, the European biota aided the European’s imperialist expansion, while hindering the native populations’ ability for self-protection.
- Crosby, A. (1988). Ecological imperialism: the overseas migration of western Europeans as a biological phenomenon. The Ends of the earth: perspectives on modern environmental history, 103-117