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March 31, 2017 | History

Philip D. Curtin

22 May 1922 - 4 June 2009

Philip De Armond Curtin (22 May 1922-4 June 2009)

Philip De Armond Curtin was born in Philadelphia, United States on the 22 May 1922 and was the author of 19 tropical historical studies.

Philip grew up in Webster Springs, West Virginia (where his family owned a coal and timber business), sailed for three years with the Merchant Marine during the Second World War, was educated at Swarthmore College where he received his Bachelor of Arts (1948), and at Harvard University where he received his Masters of Art a year later.

By the time he was studying for his Doctor of Philosophy in history (Harvard, 1953), with a dissertation on 'the history and economy of Jamaica in the mid-19th century', he had divorced his first wife (Phyllis Smith) and married his second (Patricia Romero) and began teaching at Swarthmore College (1953-1956). After his second divorce he joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (1956-1975) and married Anne Gilbert in 1957 (he has three sons).

Whilst at Wisconsin-Madison he teamed up with Jan Vansina to create the nation’s first department of African languages and literature, and wrote a very important work, his 1969 book, "The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census", which details his research into the number of Africans exported to the New World by slavers of all nationalities. The numbers most often cited as fact before Curtin’s research ranged from 15 million to 20 million. He scrutinized shipping contracts and port data, applied modern quantitative analysis, which no one had done before, and arrived at an estimate of only 9 million to 10 million. The previous higher estimates, he warned, had endured because of “a vast inertia, as historians have copied over and over again the flimsy results of insubstantial guesswork”.

Prior to moving to the John Hopkins University (1975-1998) he wrote two notably works on African societies, “Precolonial African History” (1974) and “Economic Change in Precolonial Africa” (1974). He was winner of a MacArthur fellowship in 1983 and became president of the American Historical Association in the same year.

He lived with his wife Anne in Kennett Square, Pa and taught at John Hopkins University until his retirement in 1998. Philip died in West Chester, Pa aged 87 from pneumonia on the 4 June 2009.

Principle Writings

  • Two Jamaica's: The Role of Ideas in a Tropical Colony, 1830-1864 (1955)
  • The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780-1850 (1964)
  • Editor, Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade (1967)
  • The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census (1969)
  • with Paul Bohannan, Africa and Africans (1971)
  • Editor, Africa and the West: Intellectual Responses to European Culture (1972)
  • Economical Change in Precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade, 2 vols. (1975)
  • with S. Feierman, L. Thompson, and J. Vansina, African History (1978)
  • Cross-Cultural Trade in World History (1984)
  • Death by Migration: European's Encounter with the Tropical World in the Nineteenth Century (1989)
  • The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History (1990)

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March 31, 2017 Edited by Clean Up Bot add VIAF and wikidata ID
April 8, 2012 Edited by J Gill added full name,, biog and pic
April 8, 2012 Edited by J Gill Added new photo
April 8, 2012 Edited by J Gill merge authors
April 1, 2008 Created by an anonymous user initial import