Monday, April 1, 2013
36: Virginia Anderson's Creatures of Empire
Anderson divides her book into three sections: a discussion of the many ways Algonquians and English settlers thought about different kinds of animals at the beginning of the 17th century; a history of the introduction of livestock into the Chesapeake colonies and New England and the development of regional husbandry practices; and a comparison of two near-simultaneous conflicts in the 1670s, Bacon's rebellion and King Philip's War, with an emphasis on the relationship between disputes over livestock and the outbreak of violence in both regions. Building on Bill Cronon's Changes in the Land, she argues that the English settlers sought to turn the New World into England, which included imposing their view of animals as property on the landscape and on Native Americans. There were regional differences: Chesapeake farmers, with tobacco as their cash crop, let pigs and other animal run free and go semi-feral; New England farmers, who had to deal with colder climates and rocky soils, ran family farms rather than large plantations, and kept a closer eye on their herds. However, in both regions, Native American responses to new animals and practices ranged from cautious acceptance of pigs (which seemed like deer or dogs) to outright rejection of environmental destruction by animals.
In some ways, this book is a continuation of the spatial turn in American Studies: English attitudes toward animals were closely linked to their attitudes about property, and Algonquian attitudes toward animals were linked to their more holistic view of humans, animals, and the environment, so disputes over animals spatialize and materialize conflicting worldviews. By broadening the concept of agency to include environmental and non-human actors, it also presents a more contextual (and thus possibly more complete and less biased, or at least differently biased) history of early America.