The herds shot round the world : native breeds and the British Empire, 1800-1900
Author(s)Woods, Rebecca J. H. (Rebecca Jane Houghton)
Native breeds and the British Empire, 1800-1900
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
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This dissertation explores the relationship between types of livestock and place in the context of Great Britain's expanding agro-pastoral empire. Specifically, it examines how the distribution and circulation of breeds of livestock native to the British Isles influenced understandings of kind and location-of the dynamic interaction between heredity, human influence and environmental conditions, and their various fluid effects on ovine and bovine diversity. Drawing on extensive archival work in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, I trace both the national origins and imperial expansion of British breeds. As Britain industrialized in the early nineteenth century, breeders faced the need to convert the specificity of their animals into fungibility while maintaining the distinctive character of their breeds, seemingly incompatible aims that nonetheless guaranteed the economic viability of their stock. Thus they reoriented local variability towards market standardization, transforming regional types of cattle and sheep into geographically transposable, bulky, and quick-fattening beasts suited for increasingly sophisticated economies and industrialized production. Tension between standardization and specialization shaped the dispersal of breeds throughout the empire as well. Here, stockbreeders served two masters: the unfamiliar climates and topographies of Australia, New Zealand, and North America, which demanded local adaptations, and the British consumer, whose dinner table was the end of the line for the bulk of colonial beef and mutton. As they tried to balance local adaptation and metropolitan taste, breeders experimented with heredity, testing the limits of contemporary understandings of heritability and breed plasticity, and developed of new strains of livestock genetically derived from British breeds, but culturally, economically and environmentally hybrid. In the process, imperialism itself was instantiated in these animals. Bodies of sheep and cattle were remade to suit new lands and later to fill the refrigerated holds of ocean liners. The empire itself was recast as a vast apparatus for feeding Britons. This system, divested of its imperial trappings and disseminated still further, brings meat to tables around the world today.
Thesis (Ph. D. in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society (HASTS))--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Science, Technology and Society, 2011.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis.Includes bibliographical references (pages 261-277).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Program in Science, Technology and Society.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Program in Science, Technology and Society.