Panel 1: Resource Conservation
“Protect the Pines, Punish the People: The Social Implications of Forest Conservation in Pre-Industrial Korea, 1600-1876”
John S. Lee, Harvard University
In Chosŏn Korea (1392-1910) during the late seventeenth century, central bureaucrats, provoked by the triple specters of wood scarcity, elite land grabs, and commoner slash-and-burn cultivation, began restricting general access to pine forests along Korea’s western and southern coasts. Generally known as Reserved Forests (pongsan), these sites numbered in the range of 678 by the early nineteenth century, and their management was tasked to local functionaries such as magistrates, military officials, clerks and wardens. However, these seemingly conservationist policies also empowered local functionaries to transform the Reserved Forests into mechanisms for extracting bribes and smuggling lumber. Meanwhile, in the coastal towns and villages during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, elites and commoners alike resorted to organizational means, notably the formation of community-level Pine Associations (songgye), to better meet the twin pressures of conservationist regulations and local wood scarcities.
Utilizing government records, literati treatises, lawsuit transcripts, and village-level documents, I argue that initial bureaucratic policies aimed at forest conservation actually contributed to growing social and environmental problems in southern Korea during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The government’s emphasis on protecting the Korean Red Pine (Pinus densiflora) proved detrimental to the long-term health of Korea’s coastal forests; the delegation of forest administration to local functionaries generated rural resentment and failed to clarify forest tenure rights; and the rise of local organizations dedicated to pine conservation, while confirming the state’s successful insertion of pine protection into village-level norms, augured other social divides that would turn Korea’s nineteenth century into the “age of rebellions.”
“The Return of the Native Breed: Place, Belonging and Hereford Cattle in Britain”
Rebecca Woods, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
In the late nineteenth century, British breeds of livestock dominated pastoral economies around the world, and none more so than Hereford cattle. The breed began as a local strain of oxen restricted to the border between England and Wales in the early nineteenth century, but by the turn of the twentieth century Hereford cattle reigned supreme, as ubiquitous on the rough scrubland of Queensland, Australia, or the snow-covered plains of Western Canada, as they were in the green paddocks of Herefordshire. Yet by the turn of the twenty-first century, a subset of this breed had been marked for conservation. As varieties from the former colonies, prized for their greater size and productivity, were re-imported into Britain, they threatened to displace endangered “traditional” strains of the Hereford breed passed over in the earlier mania for exportation. In this paper, I will use the case of Traditional Herefords to analyze the way in which place-specific associations produce notions of heritage and belonging in recent efforts to conserve rare breeds of livestock. Through generations spent on foreign lands and in unfamiliar climates, Hereford cattle re-imported to their erstwhile native land have been redefined in such a way as to deny claims to regional and national belonging. At the same time, Traditional Hereford cattle are set apart as an environmentally and culturally autochthonous breed within a breed. These definitions and delineations privilege certain historical narratives over others, celebrating a specific interpretation of cultural heritage and a shared rural past while eliding the uneasy history of colonial expansion in the history of British agriculture.
“Domesticating Nature?: Surveillance and Conservation of Migratory Shorebirds in the 20th Century”
Kristoffer Whitney, University of Pennsylvania
Since the nineteen-seventies, wildlife biologists and environmental activists have converged on the Delaware Bay, in the northeastern U.S., to study a migratory shorebird called the ‘red knot’. Ecologically linked with the spawning cycle of the horseshoe crab, the population of this bird has declined precipitously in recent decades with the advent of a crab fishery on the east coast. Attempts to halt this decline have hinged on shorebird population surveys and horseshoe crab harvest quotas. In this paper, I develop an environmental history of migratory shorebirds in the Western Hemisphere, paying particular attention to the methods and motivations for tracking their movements and population levels from South America to the Canadian arctic. Dependent upon the technological means for surveillance and international mandates for conservation of endangered species, protection of animals like the red knot have involved visual surveys, “mark/recapture” studies, geolocator devices, and complex computer mapping and modeling. In the wake of the U.S. Endangered Species Act such efforts have increased exponentially, leading some scholars to suggest that wildlife conservation now constitutes a form of domestication of nature. At what point does surveillance of animals become domestication? What are the effects of such studies on the animals they purport to conserve? To what extent does surveillance imply control, and what space is left for animal agency? My work with red knots in North America addresses these questions in order to suggest ways in which the histories of wildlife conservation and biology instantiate new, “posthuman” relationships, values, and ethics between human and non-human nature.
Panel 2: Wildlife, Humans and Environmental Change
“Great Snows and Big Animals: Moose and Other Ungulates on the Contested Maritime Peninsula in the Little Ice Age, 1675-1700”
Tom Wickman, Harvard University
In the frigid last quarter of the seventeenth century, the nadir of the Little Ice Age, deep snow covered Indian country as well as colonized spaces on the Maritime Peninsula, affecting hoofed animals differently. Moose, being the best equipped ungulate to cope with heavy snow, moved to the uplands of the Gulf of Maine, giving Indian family hunting bands and raiding parties a vital source of food and raw materials as they waged wars of attrition against the English. Stable snow also permitted Indians on snowshoes to descend swiftly to lowland English settlements and ravage the less mobile and more dependent cows and sheep that colonists had to gather into barns and pens for the long winters. Horses did English soldiers little good in winter pursuit of Indians.
Complementing the predominant assumption of scholarship on the Little Ice Age—that colder weather adversely affected cultures built around domesticated plants and animals—this paper pursues the less studied question of how abundant and long-lasting snows differentially empowered people with access to wild food sources in winter. Indigenous knowledge of ungulate winter behavior—how wild and domesticated ungulates moved through snow, what food they sought, what company they kept, and what elevations they preferred—gave Indians in the Gulf of Maine a key advantage against less winter-savvy colonial opponents. Only eighteenth-century English snowshoe companies patrolling upland hunting grounds, together with a slight warming trend, jeopardized the seasonal independence that Indians had forged from the coldest weather of the Little Ice Age.
“ ‘They Rush Blindly at the Light at the Expense of Their Lives’: Bird Collisions, Urban Illumination, and ‘Tragedies of Migration’ in New York City and Philadelphia, 1887-1915”
Nadia Berenstein, University of Pennsylvania
After a late August cold snap in 1887, the bodies of hundreds of birds of dozens of species, some rarely seen in the city’s vicinity, littered the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. Drawn to Liberty’s blazing electric torch, migratory birds collided with the monument in what would become a seasonal event. Similar scenes would occur in other cities, as electric lamps turned prominent structures into beacons for passing flocks.
Coinciding with the rise of a conservation movement increasingly concerned with migratory bird protection and the growth of amateur and professional ornithological societies, these spectacular avian fatalities at newly illuminated urban structures became a subject of popular, scientific, and civic interest. This paper examines reactions to the death of migratory birds at two public sites, the Statue of Liberty and Philadelphia’s City Hall, and aims to present a fresh perspective on urban environmental history, one that situates the city within migratory corridors and traces unexpected consequences of electrical illumination. Spanning the first record of mass bird fatalities at the Statue of Liberty to a decline in interest in the phenomenon as urban electrification became general, I review accounts of migratory bird collisions in periodicals, ornithological journals, and city records, and consider collaborations among ornithologists and building maintenance staff to record and collect the bodies. I also follow the afterlives of the slaughtered birds themselves: as contested raw material for milliners, objects of a perverse form of urban bird-watching, a specimen source for natural history museums, and a data set for ornithologists.
“Pigs Gone Wild: The Production of Wildness and Human-Wildlife Conflict in Modern India”
Radhika Govindrajan, Yale University
Human-wildlife conflict has become an increasingly serious issue in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand over the last couple of decades. In mountain villages adjoining forested areas, cultivators complain of large-scale crop raiding and livestock depredation by a variety of protected species including wild boar, bears, leopards, monkeys, deer and birds. Attacks on human beings, though not as frequent, can prove fatal, and often lead to reprisals by frightened and angry villagers. Conservationists and forest officials generally attribute the increase in conflict to deforestation, increased human population, expanding agrarian frontiers and the loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitats. However, in this paper I will argue villagers who live in this area view human-wildlife conflict as part of a larger process relating to the actual production (inadvertent or otherwise) and protection of wild animals and wild landscapes by a range of different actors - the state; veterinary science; development agencies; city-dwelling professionals looking to build vacation homes in the mountains; local gods and goddesses who use wild animals to enforce ritual taboos; and by villagers themselves. As an inseparable element of the production of wildness, human-wildlife conflict is no longer just about habitat fragmentation and the loss of traditional lifestyles due to the abandonment of agriculture by frustrated villagers. Instead it is part of a more complex process involving rapidly transforming cultural attitudes towards cultivation and modernity, shifting landscape ecologies, and the simultaneous urbanization and reforestation of rural areas.
Panel 3: Scientific Experimentation and Technology
“King-sized cabbages and miracle marigolds: creating crops and flowers with a chemical, 1937-1950”
Helen Curry, Yale University
In 1940, the Burpee Seed Company offered for sale the seeds of its new Tetra Marigold, the “first flower ever created by the use of a chemical.” The chemical was a toxic substance that had been discovered in 1937 to cause the duplication of chromosomes in plants. This treatment sometimes led to larger fruits and flowers – as with the oversized Tetra Marigold – and in other cases enabled difficult hybridizations that could lead to the development of wholly new types. The chemical was the object of intense interest among agriculturists at mid-century, and the crops and flowers it promised to deliver were a source of fascination for many Americans. These were thought by some to augur a revolution in agricultural production, an era when “chemical plant engineers” would refashion crops to meet specific needs or, as Burpee described it, when plants would be “manufactured scientifically.”
This paper explores the use of the chemical colchicine by American plant breeders especially in conjunction with the presentation of this work in popular media and in advertising such as that of Burpee. The application and celebration of this chemical tool centered on a widely shared understanding that it presented the opportunity to precisely alter plants, and perhaps animals, to better meet human needs. It inspired a hope that controlling organisms at the level of the chromosome and gene would improve everyday American living by increasing the abundance and variety of the food supply. As such, the paper provides a new perspective on the history of agro-genetic technologies and their reception in American culture.
“Rethinking land and labor: Shifting family values and the transition to industrialized dairy farming in New England”
Sarah Sutton, Brandeis University
In the second half of the twentieth century, rural New England farm families began to transition from a system of household dairy production to a more industrialized system of dairy farming. As demand for butter and cheese in Boston increased, dairying families increased production by testing and adopting emerging technology, conducting experiments on their cows in the hopes of improving milk yields, supplementing their cows’ diets with imported grains from the Midwest, and eventually, by moving butter and cheese production out of the household and into factories. This paper suggests that farmers’ decisions during this period were driven by the fact that increased market production placed a heavy burden on farm women, the primary source of dairy labor, and on New England’s pastures, the ecological base of dairying in the region. In other words, the old system of household dairy production was both socially and ecologically unsustainable. Adopting new strategies enabled New England dairying families to transcend the limits placed upon them by their environment and their labor source, and also represented a radical shift in thinking about their relationship to their land, animals, and labor.
“The Flying Death”: Curare Travels from American Jungles to the British Laboratories
Shira Shmu’ely, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Spanish explorers first encountered the poisonous substance curare, also known as curara, curari or worari, in the mid 16th century. South American indigenous people used it for fighting and hunting - by dipping arrows in this black substance they guaranteed the killing of hunted animals. Curare, subtracted mainly from the tropical plant Strychnos Toxifera, was introduced in Britain arguably in the early 19th century. The substance perplexed British scientists with its paralyzing effect on the muscles, and they used it to keep animals still during experiments. Since under the influence of curare animals showed no manifestation of suffering, scientists were divided in the question whether curare made animals insentient. Curare destabilize the very understanding of pain (can a paralyzed body feel pain? how can it be recognized?) and aroused ethical concerns. Anti-vivisection activists joined the debate, and led to an 1876 law provision stating that curare does not consider anesthetic.
The peculiar story of curare entangles together plants, animals and humans in radically changing geographies and contexts. It is a story of the ways in which flora and fauna kingdoms encountered Native American and British kingdoms, creating provocative links between hunters and physiologists; wild and experimental animals; poison and anesthetics. In my presentation, I’ll follow the curare through its shifting settings. I’ll explore how environmental history, history of science and British colonial history mesh together in the curare’s travels from the South American tropical jungles, through experimental laboratories, to the British House of Lords.
“Holy Cow! On Milk Yield, Fertility and the Creation of Plenty in Palestine/Israel”
Tamar Novick, University of Pennsylvania
Cows in Israel are claimed to produce the highest annual milk yield in the world. While milk yield has reached remarkable levels only in recent years, efforts to create plenty have been constant since the early days of Western settlement in Palestine, in the early 20th century. This paper examines the invention of the “Hebrew Cow,” and how it helped demonstrate that the land of Palestine/Israel was literally “flowing with milk and honey.” Drawing from the disciplines of cultural and environmental history, and the methodological tools of science and technology studies, my paper examines the way in which people who attributed special qualities to their land found technological means to materialize them. Furthermore, this paper explores the different kinds of bodies took part in the process of place-making, as well as the making of science. For example, historians of science thus far have paid much attention to model animals, and particularly to the process of extrapolating knowledge from animals and its application to humans. The centrality of female cows and women to the process of creating plenty, and their fertility in particular, exposes the boundaries between human and animal, and demonstrates how humans became model animals for other animals. By focusing on the relations between fertility and environmental conditions (most notably heat, scarcity of water, and the lack of grazing areas), I consider the roles cows and other females played in the making of the Holy Land.