George Colpitts will be giving the opening lecture for the 2014 Shannon Lecture Series:   “A sumptuous and movable feast: Bison, pemmican and the sating of society in the Northern Great Plains, 1780-1870” on November 7, in the Humanities Lecture Theatre, 303 Paterson Hall, from 1:00-2:30 pm.  A reception will follow.

Buffalo Meat Drying, White Horse Plains, Red River[1] copy

“Buffalo Meat Drying, White Horse Plains, Red River,” painted by William Armstrong fonds, 1899. Library and Archives Canada

In the late 18th century, European fur trading companies in North America turned to pemmican, a highly compact admixture of bison fat and meat, as a major food energy source to support the boreal forest fur trade. Developing new food systems from the plains dependent on aboriginal bison hunting and processing, Europeans concretized a dominant regional trope of plenty, where the bison was idealized as a perpetually gifting food source. The regales and consumption practices emerging at food depots and posts in turn arced into emerging plains fur trade society. This lecture examines the ways food systems redirecting from the plains vast amounts of bison flesh and fat, not only satiated the caloric needs of the fur trade, but became fixed to an intercultural society frequently finding its grounding in the gift of the flesh and fat of plains bison.

colpitts George Colpitts is an associate professor of history at the University of Calgary, teaching environmental history. His book, North America’s Indian Trade in European Commerce and Imagination, 1580-1850 was published in 2014 by Brill, Leiden. His book, Pemmican Empire: Food, Trade and the Last Bison Hunts on the Northwestern Plains, 1780-1870, will be published by Cambridge University Press in Fall 2014. He is the author of Game in the Garden: A Human History of Wildlife in Western Canada to 1940 (UBC Press, 2002)