Current Institutional Affiliation
Lecturer on History and Literature, History and Literature, Harvard University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2014
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, New York University (NYU)
Troubled Waters: The International Order and Conceptions of Nature in the North Atlantic Fisheries, 1713-1783

I explore the relationship between nature and the international order to ask how and why contests over resource access enabled specific ways of knowing the environment to gain authority over others in Newfoundland's eighteenth-century cod fisheries. I introduce nature to the study of the international order to question interpretations of the eighteenth-century transformation of the international order as a shift from empire to nation. Rather, I see it as a shift in how polities interacted to construct resource regimes. I focus on the French Shore, a stretch of northeast Newfoundland coast encircling half the island (3000 miles), so-designated by diplomats from 1713-1783. I follow the cod to show how fishermen's common access traditions were challenged by French and British diplomats looking to build a resource regime based on enclosure. To show the tensions between these resource regimes, I study the different ways fishermen and diplomats knew the space. Fishermen knew Newfoundland from lived experience, while diplomats knew it from often-faulty cartographic knowledge. I ask how the diplomat's epistemology acquired authority even though it was removed from environmental realties, and how this affected fishermen and cod populations. Moving out of the imagined world of diplomats to the lived world on the island, I ask how the category of nation meant little to the Irish fishermen who spoke a different language than their English captains, and had more in common politically and religiously with their French neighbors. Thinking about labor in this brutal environment also requires a recognition that European diplomats seemed reluctant to make: the indigenous Mi'kmaq and Beothuk outnumbered Europeans and were more adept at navigating the island. This project highlights how the problems facing one industry in the remote reaches of empire contributed to important shifts in the international order and prompted lasting environmental ramifications and jurisdictional disputes.