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Ok y'all did it: A thread about hogs, ferality, and race in American history.
Domestic hogs are not indigenous to North America. They were first introduced by the Spanish during the earliest phases of colonization. In fact, in many cases, hogs long preceded Europeans as the first wave of colonizers,
Hogs are tough, fierce, and hardy beasts. Their tusks offer ample defense against catamounts and other predators. They are thrifty breeders, producing large litters of viable offspring. And they can self-provision in forests, scrub, and grass (tho they also need shade and mud).
European colonizers seeded the landscape with small populations of hogs, knowing they would multiply quickly and, thus, would provide a ready supply of meat. Seeded so, hogs quickly advanced across the North American continent far faster than Europeans.
Indigenous populations faced an ambivalent gift in these new creatures. On the one hand, they could be hunted and provided another useful food source. Much like with horses, indigenous populations ingeniously harnessed porcine possibilities.
However, pigs also brought European diseases and were a vector of contagion for the epidemics that devastated indigenous populations. Hogs made life easier for settlers, and it disrupted indigenous land use. ate the crops of indigenous communities, sparking conflicts.
By the 19th century, hogs were consummate companions of settlers and pork was the predominant meat of Euro-Americans. Hogs didn’t need pasture and they produced ample lard (the most common cooking oil).
They could be pickled, barrelled, and floated down the Mississippi for the Atlantic seaboard and Europe. Cincinnati was memorably awarded the moniker “Porkopolis.” Settlers from around the Ohio River Valley drove millions of hogs there for slaughter and export.
In sum, settlers found pigs to be a useful way to extract calories from the landscape and to transform it cheaply into food and sometimes commodities. But this form of hog husbandry was low-intensity and rarely involved fences or enclosure.
In this context, the modern distinction between feral and domestic was muddier. Most hogs lived proximate to proximate to humans, some in human shelters, but they had enormous autonomy and roved freely.
This made sense early in settler colonialism, but fencing and property systems changed the story. As setters planted grains, they found roving hogs a menace who trampled and ate their crops. Similarly, fences were a form of improvement that strengthened property claims.
Over the course of the 19th century, fence laws and enclosure spread West from the Atlantic seaboard (with the exception of the South East and Appalachia where enclosure was contested until the end of the century).
In the meantime, settlers (now imagining themselves the “permanent” natives after only a generation) began to develop a different system of hog husbandry. Instead of free ranging their hogs, they increasingly confined them and fattened them on grain.
After the Civil War, the development of a robust rail system also meant live pigs could be easily transported to Chicago, which quickly replaced Cincinnati as the center of hog slaughter. This transportation network created a hog-corn nexus throughout the Middle West.
This different system of production also required a new kind of hog: settlers (now called farmers) wanted a hog that put on weight quickly and efficiently transformed corn into fat, not one that could defend itself and self-provision from a forest.
They no longer needed a lean, muscular hog with long legs and tusks capable of making a long drive to Cincinnait. They wanted a stout fat hog, with short legs, and no tusks, an animal that was docile and easily transported.
Enclosure meant they had the opportunity to do this. Whereas free ranging hogs were mostly left to their own mating, fences, crates, and barns meant farmers could intensively breed their pigs and determine with precision which animals should mate.
Ok gotta run and catch the U to get a haircut, but I'll tweet as I go, spotty WiFi and all.
By the 1880s, pig farmers across America endeavored to “improve” their herds by breeding in European stock. Through elaborate systems of genealogy and recording, they adapted the European tradition of pure-breeding to a settler colonial context.
Such farmers raved about the purity of their (animal) bloodlines, which they considered a powerful proof of the superiority of European settled agriculture and civilization. The refinement and purity of their breeds was evidence that settler colonialism was just and natural.
And what of “unimproved” pigs? They called these animals “mongrels”, “degenerates”, “scrubs”, and “natives.” The last term indexes the conflation of indigeneity with biological inferiority and unmanaged reproduction.
And much as “refined” stock proved white European superiority, “native” animals showed that those communities setter colonialism had eradicated were “degenerate” and “barbarous.”
It is in this context that the concept of “feral” can begin to emerge as a distinct and threatening concept to white American culture: a form of unmanaged reproduction and life that exists outside and apart from property ownership and settled agriculture.
That defense of assault weapons is almost too on the nose: hordes of unmanaged life invade domesticity and managed reproduction (the daughter) and must be culled with massive and indiscriminate violence. Six hundred years of settler colonialism is speaking in that tweet.
If you learned something from this thread, please read the work of the many historians working on agriculture who helped form my thinking. These include: Anderson’s Creatures of Empire, Cronon’s Changes in the Land and Nature’s Metropolis, and Specht’s Red Meat Republic.
Also, Logan O’Laughlin’s forthcoming work, Wood’s Herds Shot Round the World, Franklin’s Dolly Mixtures, Mizelle’s Pig, Blanchette’s forthcoming Porkopolis and many many more. Oh and read some Sylvia Wynter too!

Fin.
Epilogue: I have safely returned to my office at the
@MPIWG with a fresh bald fade and this thread completely viral. If you're interested in my work, some links will follow.
@MPIWG #1 My article, "A Race Suicide Among the Hogs":

academia.edu/21787581/_A_Ra…
@MPIWG #2 My article, "How Meat Changed Sex" (on the unexpected sexual politics of livestock production):

academia.edu/35295117/HOW_M…
@MPIWG #3 My book, "The 4-H Harvest: Sexuality and the State in Rural America":

amazon.com/4-H-Harvest-Se…
@MPIWG #4 A popular piece I wrote for the @BostonGlobe that gives you a sense of how I think about farming and rural America in the context of settler colonialism, "Fetishizing Family Farms":

bostonglobe.com/ideas/2016/04/…
@MPIWG @BostonGlobe #5 A recent microsyllabus on Animal Studies I wrote for the Radical History Review's incredible @abusablepast:

radicalhistoryreview.org/abusablepast/?…
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