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The Ethical Choices of Whales

All are invited to a free book talk presented by Bathsheba Demuth:

“The Ethical Choices of Whales: Bowheads, Hunters, and the Nature of History”

Thursday, November 21, 2019
3:30–5:00 p.m.
Knight Library Browsing Room

Whales and Economy

Bowhead whales have been known by three distinct groups of hunters along the Bering Strait over the past two centuries: indigenous Yupik and Inupiaq whalers, capitalist commercial whalers, and communist industrial whalers. This talk looks at how whales became known through the labor of their killing: how were whales, particularly bowheads, imagined and treated, and how did this change across economic systems? What kind of emotional relationships were possible? And what kinds of relationships were considered ethical between humans and whales? It then examines how whales themselves responded to indigenous, capitalist, and communist hunters, examining oral histories, logbooks, diaries, and Soviet records for evidence of different whale adaptations and responses to these varied human hunting pressures.

The talk closes by asking what including whale behavior in our analysis of human-whale interactions provokes in our historical understanding, and how to situate non-human actions in human narratives of the past. 

About the Speaker

photo of Bathsheba Demuth

Bathsheba Demuth is an environmental historian at Brown University, where she specializes in the lands and seas of the Russian and North American Arctic. Her interests in northern environments and cultures began when she was 18 and moved to the village of Old Crow in the Yukon, where she spent several years training sled dogs. In the years since, she has visited and lived in Arctic communities across Eurasia and North America. She has a BA and MA from Brown University, and an MA and PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. Her writing has appeared in publications from the American Historical Review to the New Yorker. Her first book, Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Arctic is just out with Norton.

book cover