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Title:Transforming an Exotic Species: Nineteenth-Century Narratives About Introduction of Carp in America
Author(s):Sandiford, Glenn
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Daniel Schneider
Department / Program:Urban and Regional Planning
Discipline:Urban and Regional Planning
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Language, Rhetoric and Composition
Abstract:This case study examines the evolution of nineteenth-century rhetoric about common carp (Cyprinus carpio) in America, with a particular focus on Illinois. Carp, known today as one of America's most infamous exotic species, was among dozens of fishes stocked in new waters within the United States during 1870-1900, as part of a general enthusiasm for plant and animal acclimatization. Even before the U.S. Fish Commission [USFC] imported its first breeders in 1877, two competing narratives about carp were emerging among fish commissioners, anglers, politicians, scientists, commercial fishers, farmers, and writers. Public discourse was initially dominated by carp advocates led by USFC chief Spencer Baird, whose hype about its potential as a food fish for farm ponds sparked a 'fever of enthusiasm' for the thousands of free carp distributed by the USFC. By the time Americans began complaining about the taste of carp, many specimens had escaped into open waters and were breeding, notably in the upper Mississippi Valley. The 1890s saw carp become one of that region's most abundant commercial fishes, especially in the Illinois River, where fishermen caught millions of pounds for eastern markets. By 1900, however, the Illinois Fish Commission was one of the few agencies still promoting carp, most other states having abandoned carp stocking and even begun eradication programs. The now unwelcome immigrant was accused of eating other fish, destroying duck habitat, and ruining water quality. But the simple swing in public opinion belies a far more complex history. In private correspondence, reports, and the popular press, carp loyalists and critics alike continually reinvented their narratives, often tapping into broader issues in society, politics, science, and nature. Although carp remained unchanged biologically, it evolved rhetorically from pond fish to savior of commercial fishing, from esteemed delicacy to muddy-tasting trash fish, from foreigner to native, from welcome addition to unwanted pest. Particularly in Illinois, these transformations highlight the fluidity of narrative constructions about nature, and how agendas are projected onto those narratives. A century later, transformative rhetoric is shaping the controversy about recently introduced Asian carp and their costly unintended consequences in the Mississippi Valley.
Issue Date:2009
Description:320 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2009.
Other Identifier(s):(MiAaPQ)AAI3392463
Date Available in IDEALS:2015-09-25
Date Deposited:2009

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