James (Jim) Riley's eight books and dozens of articles represent a path from the esoteric world of eighteenth-century finance to a global history of health. In each area, he has been a pioneer, crossing disciplinary frontiers and finding insights in new places. A native of North Carolina, he received his B.A. and Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina, and taught at the University of Houston before coming to IU in 1975. He has received numerous fellowships and grants both here and abroad, and in 2002, his many contributions were recognized with promotion to distinguished professor.
Riley began his career as a historian of public finance. His first book, International Government Finance and the Amsterdam Capital Market, 1740-1815 (1980), examines the emergence of an international capital market and its role in financing political and military competition between states. In the American Historical Review, economic historian Jan de Vries called this book "easily the most comprehensive history of the Amsterdam capital market to exist in any language . . ." and it remains so today.
Riley has been a strong advocate of a global approach in his teaching too. His course, The World Since 1945, was popular with undergraduates, and he offered courses on teaching world history to graduate students. Students in his course on the history of public health have learned how to use history to promote public health. Recent classes have published Internet guides, one of which, "Bioterrorism and Me," has been recognized by the Homeland Security Digital Library and the American College of Physicians.
Riley received the IU Bicentennial Medal in September 2020 in recognition of his distinguished contributions to Indiana University.