How did you become interested in pigs and their place in America?
I kept on running into references to pigs in different places, and wanted to connect the dots. Columbus introduced pigs to America in 1493, and for a variety of reasons they proved to be very useful to colonization. However, since Indians did not recognize property in animals, and since the pigs did a lot of damage to the Indians’ crops, they became an important source of conflict between colonists and natives.
In the 19th century, Americans debated questions of rights when they argued over who could keep pigs, and where. In the 20th century, the uproar over unsanitary pork packing practices led to a significant expansion of federal government authority. Many of the issues involved—cultural differences, private property rights, government regulation, the collective good—continue to be important today.
Explain the format of your upcoming course, especially the final project.
Since pigs have a special place in Cincinnatians’ hearts, I think there’s an audience interested in what we’re studying. Students will design a web site or museum exhibition devoted to the history of the pig in America. I’m a fan of “The Apprentice,” so the class will be divided into competing teams. I’m looking forward to seeing what names they give themselves.
Explain a bit about the importance of the pig to Cincinnati, a.k.a. Porkopolis.
In the first half of the 19th century, when Cincinnati was in the first rank of American cities, pork packing dwarfed all other industries in the city. Visitors marveled at the rivers of hogs in the streets. Maybe “marveled” isn’t exactly the right word. Anyway, when Chicago overtook Cincinnati to become the capital of American meatpacking, Cincinnati’s star faded.
What do you hope your students will take away from this course?
I want students to see history in the world around them. There are many things we take for granted—our food preferences and our sense of proper relations between animals and humans, for example–that are really artifacts of historical processes. Things that appear to be natural turn out to be the result of the interplay of economics, technology, culture and so forth.