Beyond my doctoral project on the cultural and historical meaning of animal species introductions in America - more on which you can find under the "About" tab - I'm actively researching other projects too. They, and my dissertation, stem from two foundational beliefs of mine: One is that the biggest question in the world today is whether we can enduringly sustain our existence and that of the millions of other species with which we share this planet. The second is that humanity should treat the biosphere, and especially the many sentient creatures around us, with far more respect than heretofore.
More below on work-in-progress!
Fashion Victims: The Modern American Fur Trade
The story of the American fur trade of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and first half of the nineteenth centuries has been extensively chronicled. Yet historians have been curiously silent about the American fur industry’s subsequent evolution. This historiographical lacuna is bizarre given the size, environmental impact, and endurance of the modern American fur clothing industry. Indeed, the fur industry thrived in the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century. In this period, fur farming, trapping, and hunting, and garment-making enjoyed vigorous government patronage and reached new levels of popularity. The fur industry also contributed substantially to New York City’s emergence as the world’s capital of fashion. Even now, the industry is worth billions of dollars despite the trenchant opposition of animal rights activists who object to the production of a luxury item which consumes the lives of tens of millions of animals annually.
In analyzing the modern fur industry’s outsized yet underappreciated impact on American landscapes, environmental policy, and animal ethics, I scrutinize the exploitation of diverse animals – including people laboring in harrowing conditions – and the environmental harms which resulted in places as disparate as Alaska and Louisiana. These range from the near-extinction of the Alaskan fur seal, to the 1930s introduction of the now-invasive nutria to Louisiana, to the industry’s baleful global ecological footprint - this latter exemplified by the mid-twentieth century international trade in tigers, leopards, and other endangered big cats. In so doing, I recapture the largely untold history of opposition to the fur industry that animal welfare advocates have mustered for nearly 150 years. I also probe the understudied intertwining of science, government, and industry in analyzing the federal government’s stewardship of the industry via its scientist-bureaucrat managers. Finally, I reveal the heavy impact of the industry in not only depleting animal populations and altering ecosystems, but in exerting political clout to silence critics and to dictate environmental policy.
Exotic Pet-Keeping and the Commercial Animal Trade in America
There is very little work on both the commercial animal trade in America - both contemporary and historical - and the history of American exotic pet-keeping. I plan to do something about this. In fact, I already kinda have, as you can read in my 2021 Gotham Center article: https://www.gothamcenter.org/blog/dispatches-from-anthropoid-ellis-island
I am currently working on a journal article focused on the New York City animal dealer Henry Trefflich. Other aspects of this question of particular interest to me are the trade in primates for pets or research subjects, the rise of private big cat ownership in the US, and the trade in animal parts for supposedly "medicinal" uses.