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Summer Scholars: Britain and the American Civil War / Alaskan Sealskin (British Library)
August 28, 2015 @ 12:30 pm - 2:00 pm
Summer Scholars Friday 28 August
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- British Intervention in the American Civil War: Case Closed?
David Brown (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow) reconsiders the case for British intervention in the American Civil War (1861-65). While most scholars suggest this was unlikely, could the Lancashire cotton famine have forced the British government to break its policy of neutrality?
- “The Seal and his Jacket”: Conservation, Cruelty and Consumption in the Fur Seal Fisheries of Alaska, 1850-1914
Helen Cowie (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow) discusses her research on the sealskin industry in late-nineteenth-century Alaska.
‘British Intervention in the American Civil War: Case Closed?’
David Brown, University of Manchester (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow)
The American Civil War (1861-65) had a profound influence on British politics and society. Most immediately, it threatened to drag Great Britain into a potentially calamitous conflict with the United States. Economic links between the two nations, as well as numerous cultural affiliations, made it very difficult for the leading power of the age to avoid direct involvement. More than once, British intervention seemed inevitable, not least because Abraham Lincoln’s naval blockade drastically curtailed cotton supplies. The ensuing Cotton Famine caused a devastating downturn in the Lancashire textile industry and severe unemployment among cotton operatives by the winter of 1862. This talk reconsiders the case for British intervention in the American Civil War. While most scholars suggest this was unlikely, could the Lancashire cotton famine have forced the British government to break its policy of neutrality?
Dr. David Brown is Senior Lecturer in American Studies at Manchester University. He is the author of Southern Outcast: Hinton Rowan Helper and the Impending Crisis of the South(2006), co-author of Race in the American South: From Slavery to Civil Rights (2007) and co-editor of Creating Citizenship in the 19th Century South (2013). His current research investigates British public opinion and transatlantic diplomacy during the American Civil War in the first scholarly examination of the Manchester Union and Emancipation Society. In an era when public opinion was especially critical to policy-making, the UES led the last major abolitionist campaign (1863-1865) seeking to influence British responses to the war. This alliance of Manchester workers and professionals sought restoration of the American Union and its principled stand against slavery attracted significant national support.
‘“The Seal and his Jacket”: Conservation, Cruelty and Consumption in the Fur Seal Fisheries of Alaska, 1850-1914’
Helen Cowie, University of York (Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow)
The Pacific fur seal was heavily hunted in the nineteenth century for its coat. Every year, thousands of seals were culled on the Pribylov 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. By the mid-nineteenth century, the fur seal industry was a global business, employing men and women in Alaska, San Francisco and London. It was also a highly fragile and contentious enterprise whose existence was threatened by the uncontrolled exploitation of the natural resource upon which it was built. Examining the Alaskan seal fisheries from an environmental history perspective, this talk looks at the measures taken to protect seals from overfishing and positions their management within a wider raft of conservation initiatives. I discuss the humanitarian objections to the fur industry, which according to one contemporary ‘makes patchwork…not only of the hides of its victims, but of the conscience and intellect of its supporters’. I also show how the seal industry was bound up with complex commodity chains and international diplomacy.
Helen Cowie is 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 or Conquering Nature in Spain and its Empire, 1750-1850 (Manchester University Press, 2011) and Exhibiting Animals in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Empathy, Education, Entertainment (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). She is currently working on a history of animal-based commodities in the nineteenth century, including sealskin, ivory and alpaca wool.