Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Kulikoff, Allan||Fogleman, Aaron S.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Political ecology--United States--History; Nature--Effect of human beings on--United States--History; Human ecology--United States--History; Environmental policy--United States--History


In their initial observations of the North American continent, European colonizers marveled at the diversity of wild animals they found in this “New World,” and they imagined a range of possible uses for this faunal abundance. Between 1500 and 1800 Euro-Americans described, consumed, exchanged, preserved, and exterminated wild creatures in a quest to impose their version of economic and ecological order on an unfamiliar environment. But colonists were not ultimately free to utilize wildlife in any way they wished. Pre-existing modes of Native American wildlife use and the physical environment itself shaped the colonial encounter between Europeans, Indians, and wild creatures. In a process of interaction, contestation, and accommodation, wild animals limited the possibilities for Euro-Americans' environmental use. This study of early American environmental history approaches wildlife use from the analytical perspective of political ecology. Seen through this conceptual lens, Euro-Americans' relationships to wild animals appear more varied and influential than previous historical interpretations have allowed. A westward trajectory of case studies from the Virginia Tidewater to Kentucky shows that, over time, Euro-Americans adopted different kinds of relationships with the animals they encountered. Moreover, the ecological choices they made reverberated throughout society as people disagreed about the proper forms of wildlife use. This investigation situates these episodes of wildlife use on the broader cultural landscape in order to expose the variations in different human-animal interactions that cannot be discerned in purely local studies. Diverse sources—ranging from explorers' accounts to colonial statutes—demonstrate that Euro-Americans perceived wild animals as indicators of their new surroundings. Meanwhile, authorities sought to create environmental and social order by reconfiguring Indian-animal relationships and regulating settlers' interactions with wildlife. Approaching human-animal relationships in early America from the perspective of historical political ecology reveals with particular clarity the linkages between environment, culture, and economy. Conflicts over access to wildlife brought to the fore competing notions about the rights to use, eliminate, or possess parts of the faunal environment. Wild animals acted as protagonists in this story, confounding the Euro-American faith in private property and complicating the politics of environmental contests by asserting their own ecological agenda.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [315]-342).


vii, 342 pages




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