SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

The Global Life of Oysters

Conference Organiser - Ed Emery

Date: 17 October 2020Time: 10:00 AM

Finishes: 17 October 2020Time: 6:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings

Type of Event: Conference

Call for Papers: The Global Life of Oysters: Social, Cultural, Historical & Political

Conference Chair - Prof William Gervase Clarence-Smith

As part of the ongoing programme of the Interdisciplinary Animal Studies Initiative (IASI) based at SOAS University of London, in October 2020, we are organising a small conference in London.  This will be an exploratory pre-conference, preparing for a larger event to be held in Archachon, France in 2021.  Our aim is to map out broad areas of problems and possibilities for research.  As a pilot event, it will offer a general interdisciplinary survey, and will get the word out to interested colleagues around the world in order to build a network of interest. The conference will be partly physical (in person) and partly virtual (on-line). We think that oysters are hugely interesting! For this conference our interest is primarily edible oysters, and we shall be viewing them from a variety of thematic, disciplinary, geographical, and historical perspectives. Potential papers might address the following topics:
  • Categorisation of species
  • The replacement of some species by others, in natural and engineered processes
  • Environments – natural, damaged, restored, and conserved
  • Diseases and non-human predators
  • Methods of aquaculture and of managing wild resources
  • Ethnographies of producer communities
  • Forms of consumption – raw, cooked, smoked, dried, pickled, canned
  • Historical patterns of consumption, as affected by class, region, etc
  • Dietary restrictions for religious and cultural reasons
  • Food poisoning scares, and public health measures
  • Economics of gathering, culturing, and trading
  • Uses of shells
  • Symbolism in literature and art
  • Comparisons with pearling oysters
  • Comparisons with other edible molluscs
  • “Oyster cultures” in the broadest sense

Papers addressing other themes are also welcome.

Overview:

There are relatively few publications that cover the extraordinary life of oysters, especially as seen from the perspective of the human exploitation of this marine resource across the world. Our purpose in calling this conference is to expand this literature, with the intention of publishing an edited volume after the main conference in Arcachon 2021.

The consumption of edible oysters is extremely old in human history, although the practice has met with cultural barriers. High-caste Hindus, Buddhist monks, Jains, Jews, and secular vegetarians abstain from all shellfish, and Muslims tend to follow suit. The danger of food poisoning has led others to shun oysters, which tend to be eaten raw in the West, and cooked in Asia. Eating raw foods has at times been equated with barbarism, and oysters have often been a food of the very poor, sometimes as a fall-back in times of dearth. However, they have also been delicacies of the super-rich. They have been considered an aphrodisiac, albeit with little scientific backing. Dried and smoked oysters have been widely traded, especially in East Asia, often with the flesh of other molluscs. The dull and ugly shells and pearls have rarely been exploited, unlike those of other molluscs, but there have been exceptions.

Excessive gathering and pollution have periodically threatened the existence of edible oysters. States have thus imposed closed periods for extraction. Aquaculture, dating back to before the common era in the Chinese and Roman empires, has been another response to scarcity, intensifying around the globe from the late nineteenth century, and accelerating the replacement of flat oysters (Ostrea edulis) by their larger Pacific relatives (Crassostrea gigas). However, aquaculture has met with resistance from some gatherers, who prefer to manage wild resources. Fierce disputes have broken out over rights of access, leading to governmental intervention.

Oysters have figured extensively in literature and the visual arts, for example as markers of conviviality, Bohemian life-styles, luxury, or sexuality. This has mainly been studied in a Western context.

The oyster also has a well-documented role to play in mitigating problems of food crisis, flooding and global warming.

Submission and deadlines:

Abstracts of proposed papers should be sent in the following format:

  • TITLE OF PROPOSED PAPER
  • INSTITUTIONAL AFFILIATIONS (IF ANY) OF PRESENTER(S) OF PAPE
  • ABSTRACT [max. 200 words]
  • CV OF PRESENTER(S) OF PAPER [max. 100 words
  • PREFERENCE REGARDING WHETHER TO ATTEND IN PERSON, OR TO PARTICIPATE VIA INTERNET 

Please send to conference organizer Ed Emery

Deadline: These materials should reach us by 30 July 2020. Notifications will be sent in the week of 15 August 2020.

PLEASE NOTE: This conference is one of a series of interdisciplinary animal studies events. Details can be found at:

http://www.geocities.ws/soasanimalstudies/

Organiser: Ed Emery

Contact email: ed.emery@soas.ac.uk