Obits in Brief: Philip D. Curtin

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The Independent Online

Philip D. Curtin, who died on 4 June at the age of 87, was an historian best known for his work on the slave trade, and for changing the way the subject is taught.

Born in Philadelphia and raised in West Virginia, where his parents owned a coal and timber firm, he received a doctorate from Harvard in 1953, he taught first at the University of Wisconsin, where he pioneered the discipline of African Studies, and then Johns Hopkins.

In 1969 he published the book The Atlantic Slave Trade: A Census, which used modern statistical and quantitative methods to assert that far fewer slaves were transported from Africa than had been believed to be the case.

Previous estimates had ranged from 15-20 million to as many as 100 million, but Curtin's work suggested that the figure was closer to nine or 10 million. A spokesman for the American Historical Association described him as "a brilliant historian who broke away from the dominant Eurocentric models of historiography of other continents to create a critical and pioneering body of scholarship on Africa, the Atlantic world, the British empire, and comparative history."