The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail

Jeffrey Bolster, University of New Hampshire

Overfishing is often thought of as a contemporary problem. Jeff Bolster’s presentation reveals humans transforming the sea long before factory trawlers turned fishing from a hand-liner’s art into an industrial enterprise. The western Atlantic’s legendary fishing banks, stretching from Cape Cod to Newfoundland, have attracted fishermen for more than five hundred years. In his innovative re-telling of that supposedly well-known sea story, Bolster, a historian and professional mariner, reveals possibilities unlocked through a focus on Environmental Humanities. Blending marine biology, ecological insight, and a remarkable cast of characters — from notable explorers to scientists to an army of unknown fishermen —  this talk, based on his book of the same name, illuminates a story that is both ecological and human: the prelude to an environmental disaster.

Jeffrey Bolster is a Professor Emeritus of History at the University of New Hampshire. His expertise lies in the areas of maritime history, early American history, African American history, New Hampshire history, and environmental history of Northwest Atlantic commercial fisheries. Bolster states he “is equally at home with a deck under [his] feet or with the treasures of a research library spread before [him].”

He is the author of a number of publications including the best-selling book, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail and his most recent book, The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail. The latter won the American Historical Association’s 2013 Albert J. Beveridge Prize and 2013 James Rawley Prize in Atlantic History. The book also won the North American Society for Oceanic History’s John Lyman Book Award for the best book in U.S. Maritime History. Columbia University named Bolster one of two recipients of the 2013 Bancroft Prize, which is considered one of the most distinguished academic awards in the field of history.

Watch Jeffrey Bolster’s lecture below.