Whaling, Consumer Culture and Changing Understandings of the Natural World in Early Modern Europe
Dr Sarah A. Bendall, Australian Catholic University
This presentation by Dr Sarah A. Bendall is part of Environmental Exchanges, a seminar series organised by the Centre for Environmental History to showcase innovative new research that engages with key themes in environmental history. Throughout 2022, the Centre will be hosting seminars that engage with this year's theme of Oceans in original and compelling ways. Please note that this seminar will be held simultaneously online via Zoom and in person in Room 3.72 of the RSSS Building (subject to COVID restrictions). To receive a link for the Zoom meeting, please register here.
By the end of the seventeenth century, Europeans wore a variety of fashionable garments made from whalebone sourced from the Arctic, sprayed on perfumes infused with ambergris from Africa or the Caribbean, and used medicines and cosmetics made with spermaceti from North America. This paper argues that scientific and popular understandings of whales went hand-in-hand with seventeenth-century fashionable consumer culture. While the whale still occupied various contradictory cultural, commercial and scientific spaces in European thought, this century saw a period of transformation where common understandings of whales shifted. These animals went from being monsters to curiosities of the natural world that could be commodified and used in a wide variety of consumer goods, goods that were increasingly used in the everyday lives of Europeans. By focusing on the use of whale products in early modern England, this paper highlights the role that the consumption of fashion and other goods played in fostering wider understandings of the natural world, in both positive and negative ways, during the seventeenth century.
About the Speaker:
Sarah A. Bendall is a Research Fellow at the Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, Australia Catholic University. Her current research examines experimental history approaches, the roles of women in the clothing trades during the seventeenth century, and the widespread use of whaling products in fashion between the years 1500-1800. She is the author of Shaping Femininity (Bloomsbury, 2021).