Sunday, February 20, 2011

Winged Wardens Inaugural Post

Another year, another blog project. Last year I spent my sabbatical publishing material on my Thornton W. Burgess Research League blog. I am still pursuing that project (though my posts have stopped for now) but when I started the scholarly writing process it became clear that I was lacking a solid historical foundation, particularly around the history and rhetoric of bird protection in the United States. It turns out that a history of the type I was looking for is not available. Thus this blog, which is as much a chance for me to organize my thoughts as it is to bring the topic to the public stage.

There are a number of good books on the history of bird protection. (I'll be populating a page of resources as part of this blog project). They tend to begin with the foundation of the Audubon societies in the late 1800s, which makes sense given the institutional energy needed to bring the issue of bird protection to broad public attention and legislative agendas. By that point, however, the rhetoric around the issue of bird protection had been evolving for nearly a century in the United States in what is now a largely forgotten medium--the agricultural press. Only Richard Judd, as far as I can find, has noted this fact, in his 2000 book Common Lands, Common People.

The chief law protecting birds in this country, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, was eventually justified on the basis of national food security--insectivorous and weed seed-eating birds were necessary to protect U.S. agriculture, especially during times of war, and thus deserved their own defense. (This did not include game birds, which is an important story in its own right). As Kurpatrick Dorsey details in his 1998 book, The Dawn of Conservation Diplomacy, the institutions of "Economic Ornithology" were crucial in developing these arguments, but I want to push back earlier into history, before these institutions were firmly established.

The title of this blog is drawn from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem, "The Birds of Killingworth." I'll be fleshing out the significance of the poem in a future post. For now I'll just note the importance of the poem as a condensation of some chief arguments and modes of communication around the issue of bird protection.

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