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Shakespeare’s StarlingsLiterary History and the Fictions of Invasiveness

Shakespeare’s StarlingsLiterary History and the Fictions of Invasiveness Scientists, environmentalists, and nature writers often report that all common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in North America descend from a flock released in New York City in 1890 by Eugene Schieffelin, a man obsessed with importing all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare. This article uses the methods of literary history to investigate this popular anecdote. Today starlings are much despised as an invasive species that displaces native birds and does almost a billion dollars worth of damage to agriculture annually. Because of the starling’s pest status, the Schieffelin story is considered a cautionary tale about the dangers of ecological ignorance. Diving into the history of the Schieffelin story reveals, however, that it is almost entirely fictional. Tracing how its elements emerged and changed over a century of retelling clarifies how the story came to shore up uncertainties in the bird’s environmental history and to distract from the lack of data supporting the starling’s supposedly disastrous impacts. In explaining how a fiction repeated over time attained the status of fact in debates about invasive species, this literary history suggests humanistic methods can serve as useful tools for understanding the value-laden narratives underpinning environmental attitudes and practices today. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Environmental Humanities Duke University Press

Shakespeare’s StarlingsLiterary History and the Fictions of Invasiveness

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Copyright
© 2021 Lauren Fugate and John MacNeill Miller
ISSN
2201-1919
eISSN
2201-1919
DOI
10.1215/22011919-9320167
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Scientists, environmentalists, and nature writers often report that all common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in North America descend from a flock released in New York City in 1890 by Eugene Schieffelin, a man obsessed with importing all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare. This article uses the methods of literary history to investigate this popular anecdote. Today starlings are much despised as an invasive species that displaces native birds and does almost a billion dollars worth of damage to agriculture annually. Because of the starling’s pest status, the Schieffelin story is considered a cautionary tale about the dangers of ecological ignorance. Diving into the history of the Schieffelin story reveals, however, that it is almost entirely fictional. Tracing how its elements emerged and changed over a century of retelling clarifies how the story came to shore up uncertainties in the bird’s environmental history and to distract from the lack of data supporting the starling’s supposedly disastrous impacts. In explaining how a fiction repeated over time attained the status of fact in debates about invasive species, this literary history suggests humanistic methods can serve as useful tools for understanding the value-laden narratives underpinning environmental attitudes and practices today.

Journal

Environmental HumanitiesDuke University Press

Published: Nov 1, 2021

References