‘The Seal and his Jacket’: Science, Politics and Conservation in the Fur Seal Fisheries of Alaska, 1850-1914

Thursday, February 13, 2020 - 18:00
Room 1.33, First Floor, Iontas Building, North Campus

The Pacific fur seal was heavily hunted in the nineteenth century for its coat. Every year, thousands of seals were culled on the Pribilof Islands in the Behring Sea and their skins shipped to London, where they were prepared and processed. They were then distributed to consumers in North America and Europe as shawls, pelisses, gloves and jackets. Examining the Alaskan seal fisheries from an environmental history perspective, this paper looks at the measures taken to protect seals from overfishing and positions their management within a wider raft of conservation initiatives. Dr Cowie discusses the humanitarian objections to the fur industry and shows how the seal industry was bound up with complex commodity chains and international diplomacy.

Helen Cowie is senior lecturer in history at the University of York. Her research focuses on the history of animals and the history of natural history. She is author of Conquering Nature in Spain and its Empire, 1750-1850 (2011), Exhibiting Animals in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Empathy, Education, Entertainment (2014) and Llama (2017). She is currently working on a project entitled ‘Fashion Victims: Animal Commodities in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.