(Not Really Much About) Pigs for Historians (Peter Mancall)

The environment was also one of the main reasons why colonists chose to sail to the Americas. In the early 16th century, people were obsessed with the idea of monsters. We can see this in depictions in many churches, including Cathédrale St-Léonce (Frejus, France) and Basilica of San Marco (Venice, Italy). This is also evident in the famous Mandeville accounts where Mandeville tells us of monsters that live in the edges of the world. As time progressed, science replaced the authenticity of religion. However, the idea of monsters still remained.

Edward Topsell wrote many books taking inventory of all the animals in the world. He wrote books about “four-legged beasts,” serpents, and eventually birds. In the first two books, he describes many real animals (such as the horse) as well as fictional (such as the unicorn and the giant sea-serpent). Some of these descriptions included monsters found in the Americas. Other people, such as Raleigh described creatures that were told by the Native Americans (he did not see these beasts himself. These descriptions of monsters fascinated people for centuries to come.

Eventually, Thomas Moffatt wrote a book, much like Topsell’s, about insects. One of the most interesting parts of the book is his description of the uses if the firefly. While in the Americas, he came across some native people who had used the firefly’s glowing substance as face paint to help coordinate their evening activities. After this, explorers then recognized that Native Americans were able to adapt more easily than the Europeans. These are the first signs we see as people realizing that they may have a few things to learn from the Native Americans.

Many explorers created illustrations of the native people doing everyday tasks, such as fishing. The pictures showed how well the people were doing at these activities as if to saw to the europeans “if they can do this, imagine how much more we can do.”

Another realization of the America’s worth to the Europeans is their need for fur. The most popular by far was felt, which was made from beavers. As their need for felt grew and the european supply of beavers diminished, they decided that the Americas would have its use in this field. Canada especially had a large number of beavers that could be used to meet the need for felt.

Additionally, islands, which were very rare in Europe, were especially useful for the hoarding of livestock, especially pigs. Pigs were seen as “perfect animals” because they could adapt to virtually any environment they were put in. With the help of these islands, the europeans did not need to worry about building fences and they could just leave a couple of pigs on the island. When they came back, there would be an abundance of pigs there!

As the environmental benefits of the Americas were being discovered, the authors of the animal books, like Edward Topsell and Thomas Moffat, were large contributors to the cause. They stopped illustrating monsters that roamed the Americas and focused on the positives of the new animals that lived there.

So, not only did the cultural freedoms draw colonists to the Americas, but also the environmental benefits of the New World.


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