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Art History Speaker Series: Helen Cowie on “Crocodile Tears and Fur Seals”

March 6 @ 12:00 pm - 1:15 pm

March 6th, 2024, 12-1:15 p.m.


The Boise State Department of Art, Design and Visual Studies and the Visiting Artist and Scholar Program are pleased to present Helen Cowie, Professor of Modern History at the University of York, as part of their 2023-2024 Art History Speaker Series: “Extinction.”

Cowie is the author of “Llama” (Reaktion: 2017) and “Victims of Fashion: Animal Commodities in Victorian Britain” (Cambridge University Press, 2021). Her next book, “Animals in World History,” is forthcoming with Routledge.

Cowie will present on “Crocodile Tears and Fur Seals”: Consumption, Conservation and Cruelty in the Fur Seal Fisheries of Alaska, c.1870-1914

Abstract: The Pacific fur seal was hunted throughout the nineteenth century for its thick fur coat. Every year, thousands of seals were culled on the Pribilof Islands in the Behring Sea. Their skins were shipped to London, where they were converted into shawls, pelisses, gloves and jackets. This discussion explores the fur seal industry in the period c.1870-1914 and assesses its ecological impact.

Once prevalent around the Pacific rim, the fur seal had already been wiped out in the southern Pacific Ocean through indiscriminate culling. Anxious to prevent its extinction in the Bering Sea, the US Government looked for ways to limit the slaughter, introducing quotas for the number of seals that could be killed each year, sending teams of scientists to study the breeding habits of the fur seal and prohibiting ‘pelagic sealing’ (the hunting of seals in the sea). The discussion considers the wider diplomatic clashes that resulted from the decline of the fur seal population and the challenges of protecting a marine animal that crossed territorial boundaries. It also discusses humanitarian critiques of the sealskin industry, which focused on the welfare of individual seals; one female consumer was so upset by ‘the dreadful cruelties’ committed by the sealing industry that she refused to purchase any sealskin jackets, ‘so grieved’ was she ‘at the thought of the butchery performed to procure them.’

To participate, please utilize the Zoom link below:

This event is free and open to the public.

This event has been generously supported by funding from the Boise State School of the Arts.