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Senior Research Seminar: Professor Gísli Pálsson (University of Iceland)

When May 17, 2019
from 04:15 PM to 06:00 PM
Where Edmund Leach Room, Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge
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Professor Gísli Pálsson (University of Iceland)

Awkward Ecologies: The Great Auk, Extinctions, and the Anthropocene

This paper draws attention to the fate of the Great Auk (Alca impennis), a flightless bird which apparently became extinct on Eldey, South-West Iceland, by the middle of the nineteenth century. I shall focus on a valuable, underexploited source, the Garefowl Books of egg-collector John Wolley and ornithologist Alfred Newtons, written during their visit to Iceland in the summer of 1858, ten to fifteen years after the Great Auk disappeared. Located in Cambridge University Library, the Garefowl Books (900 pages in 5 volumes), at times resembling anthropological field diaries, offer a rare window into extinction, the fate of the last birds, and the perspectives of the last crews which hunted for them under growing international pressures for museum specimens. What is the relevance of the case of the Great Auk, and other 'signature' narratives of extinction, in the current age, at the dawn of the Anthropocene, in the wake of escalating human impact on life on earth and the planet 'itself'?

Great Auks in the mist
Great Auks in the mist by Errol Fuller
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