Asking Big Questions about Great Problems


As part of a new approach to the first year experience at WPI, two Great Problems Seminars are being offered this fall. They are designed, in part, to give students the skills they need to tackle the required major projects they will complete later during their WPI educations, and to get them thinking about important societal problems they might explore in their projects and address in their careers.

To stimulate students’ thinking about the great problems of the world, organizers of the seminars invited Alfred W. Crosby, professor emeritus of history, geography, and American studies at the University of Texas at Austin, to address the WPI community. Considered a founding figure in the scholarly studies of environmental history and global history, Crosby is best known for The Columbian Exchange, a book he published 35 years ago that provides a biological interpretation for consequences of Columbus’ voyages that other historians had attributed to social, cultural, political, economic, and military factors.

His WPI lecture was based, in part, on his recent book Throwing Fire: Projectile Technology Through History, which looks at fire and the fastball as two key steps in human development.