October 27, 2010 4:00 PM, DeMeritt Hall 112
Lecture Summary: This sea story relates the historic complexity of fisheries in medieval Europe in a thousand year evolution that culminates in exploration and expansion to the northwestern Atlantic. Starting with post-Roman Europe about 500 AD, a culture of fish consumption emerged in Europe over the next millennium. Up to the eleventh century, or later in some places, local fishers exploited freshwater and inshore marine ecosystems to supply their families, their lords’ household establishments, and/or local markets with fish. But Medieval population growth and economic development changed parameters for human relations with aquatic systems. Massive agricultural clearances, the proliferation of water wheels, urbanization, and local waste impacted aquatic habitats, while the demand for fish continued to rise. Evidence indicates local, regional, and species-specific overfishing. High and late medieval Europeans experienced insecurity and shortfalls in the supply of fish. Their responses included privatization and public regulation of fishing rights and methods; aquaculture; and step-wise expansion of fisheries on Europe’s maritime frontiers. While the ‘tragedy of the commons’ rarely occurred in medieval Europe, fishers bound overseas left their sense of natural limits at the departure dock. Thus the Medieval experience holds many parallels to present-day global fisheries issues.
Biography: Richard Hoffmann is Professor Emeritus of History at York University in Toronto. Focusing on medieval and early modern Europe, his work has examined environmental, economic, social and cultural history through the lens of fisheries, fish farming, frontiers and human ecology. He is author of the book Fishers' Craft and Lettered Art: Tracts on Fishing from the End of the Middle Ages; and numerous articles, including "Footprint Metaphor and Metabolic Realities: Environmental Impacts of Medieval European Cities," in Natures Past: The Environment and Human History; and "Homo et Natura, Homo in Natura: Ecological Perspectives on the European Middle Ages," in Engaging with Nature. Essays on the Natural World in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Hoffmann has been a tireless advocate for environmental history and historical ecology. He enjoys nature first hand through fishing and birdwatching.