Properties of Empire: Law and Environment in the Eighteenth-Century Newfoundland Cod Fisheries
Arianne Sedef Urus works on the legal and environmental history of the Atlantic World. Her current project, Properties of Empire, rethinks prevailing understandings of the political economy of early modern European empires in the Atlantic World. It does so by using the tools of legal history and political ecology to analyze the most important site of eighteenth-century Franco-British rivalry: the Newfoundland cod fisheries. French and British ministers coveted these shores not only for cod, but also because common wisdom associated fisheries with naval power. Fisheries, ministers believed, would provide the navy with a steady stream of hardy sailors. As a result, the fisheries became home to a jurisdictional arrangement in which the French and British shared fishing rights and each was explicitly banned from settlement in Newfoundland, an arrangement the manuscript terms a regime of joint commercial exploitation. The fisheries proved so consequential that disputes over their status prolonged the Seven Years War and, moreover, played a key role in French support for the Thirteen Colonies in the American War. The manuscript examines question of property and resource access rights on a number of levels, from the fishermen who fought over who could fish where to the Indigenous Beothuk, Inuit, and Mi’kmaw peoples whose access to resources was disrupted by the expansion of European fisheries and to the European diplomats who worked to avoid conflict and simultaneously achieve imperial strategic aims. The manuscript argues that the regime of joint commercial exploitation at work in Newfoundland reveals an under-theorized political economic dimension of early modern European empire worldwide that prioritized the importance of resource access, the projection of naval power, and the flow of capital while deemphasizing the paramountcy of territorial possession and claims of sovereignty. The formalized interimperial entanglement in the fisheries resonated with a broader shift in the political economy of empire globally, from the Americas to Africa to Asia.
Arianne received her PhD in History from NYU in 2020. She was previously a lecturer on History and Literature at Harvard, and she will be an Assistant Professor of Early American History at Cambridge beginning in the fall 2023.