Livestock as Global and Imperial Commodities: Economies, Ecologies and Knowledge Regimes, c. 1500 – present.
Commodities of Empire International Workshop, Free University Berlin, 14-15 July 2022
Livestock has played a crucial role in imperial politics, economies and societies over the past centuries. The expansion of animal raising often went hand in hand with settler colonialist land expropriation, and various animals were in many places crucial to colonial conquest and exploitation. Moreover, livestock and livestock commodities, such as meat, wool, hides and tallow were traded and consumed within and across boundaries, both imperial and non-imperial. Such commodification processes not only relied on settler livestock frontiers, but also on the transformation of indigenous livestock economies, knowledge regimes and local ecologies. They were closely tied to the global expansion of capitalism and, as such, also affected non-colonial and post-imperial spaces across the world in many similar, yet sometimes also diverging ways. However, compared to agricultural cash crops and minerals, imperial and global histories of livestock are still quite rare.
This workshop addressed this important research gap. It explored the different (political, economic, societal, cultural, religious, ecological and scientific) dimensions of livestock production and commodification in global and imperial history.
We broadly define livestock as domesticated animals that are raised for multiple purposes, most notably for their labour (draft, pack, riding and powering machinery); their skin, hair, horns, shells, feathers, etc. (for clothing or ornaments); their meat, milk and eggs (for nutritional purposes); their manure (as fertilizer or fuel); their body parts (for medicinal purposes); their monetary value (for barter, savings and marriage payments); or their symbolic value (for religious uses, punishments and displays of prestige). Our definition includes cattle, water buffaloes, yaks, reindeer, sheep, goats, pigs, camels, elephants, horses, mules, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, poultry and ostriches, and we would also welcome papers on (shell)fish farming. Yet, we would exclude wild animals that are hunted, exhibited and/or subjected to conservationist measures. These will be addressed in a second workshop in 2023.
This two-day workshop was a collaborative venture between the Commodities of Empire British Academy Research Project and the Commodifying Cattle Research Project funded by the German Research Foundation at the Free University Berlin.
The event included a public Keynote Lecture by Reinaldo Funes-Monzote (University of Havana): ‘Livestock and Commodity Frontiers in Latin America since Colonial Times to the Present’.
Oscar Broughton, of the Free University Berlin, has written a report on the workshop. This can be read here.