Events Calendar

J.R. McNeill - Bison Hide, Elephant Tusk, and Sperm Whale Oil-The Industrial Revolution and the Late Holocene Depletions ca. 1800-1920

Thursday, 12 October, 2023

Humanities Forum Lecture: “Bison Hide, Elephant Tusk, and Sperm Whale Oil: The Industrial Revolution and the ‘Late Holocene Depletions’ ca. 1800-1920”

By J.R. McNeill, Distinguished University Professor at Georgetown University.

Thurs. Oct. 12, 2023   5:30 pm.   Loyola Science Center Auditorium, LSC 133

Part of the larger theme of Global Environmental History of the Industrial Revolution, the lecture concerns the ecological implications of ramping up the supply of fibers, minerals, lubricants, dyestuffs, and several other ingredients of industrialization, mainly in the 19th century.  British and American industrialization required cotton, wool, lead, copper, whale oil, palm oil, bison hide, elephant ivory, gutta percha among other items, most of which came from afar.  Cheap coal-fired transport made it feasible to harvest, hunt, gather, collect these ingredients, and ship them to industrial centers.

This focuses on the impacts on three megafauna species of industrial demand for leather belting, ivory keyboards, and sperm whale oil for machine lubrication and illumination.  Bison, elephants, and sperm whales as keystone species had for millennia helped to regulate ecology on large grasslands or in the deep oceans, but in the 19th century their populations fell sharply, reducing their effectiveness.


J.R. McNeill, Distinguished University Professor at Georgetown University, has authored or edited more than 20 books, including Something New Under the Sun, listed by the London Times among the 10 best science books ever written (despite being a history book); and Mosquito Empires, which won the Beveridge Prize from the American Historical Association; and most recently The Webs of Humankind.  He has served as president of both the American Society for Environmental History and the American Historical Association and is an elected member of both the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Academia Europaea.  In 2018 he received the Heineken Award for History from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. 



Sarah Kenehan

Phone: 570-941-4700

Loyola Science Center, PNC Auditorium (133)

204 Monroe Avenue
Scranton, PA 18510