Tom Turkey, Transatlantic Traveler

Eleazar Albin, A Natural History of Birds (1731)

Eleazar Albin, A Natural History of Birds (1731)

Even if you won’t be roasting a turkey at Thanksgiving later this week, there’s no denying that this iconic bird has become part of the American story.

Other than on “Turkey Day” itself, however, is eating turkeys as uniquely American as we think it is?

The idea that Benjamin Franklin wanted a turkey, rather than a bald eagle, to be the national symbol of the United States is well known but probably a myth (or at least an exaggeration). Nevertheless, the bird did come to be identified with the New World, where it originated.

What few Americans today realize is that the turkey was also one of our first expatriates. By the time the Founding Fathers were supposedly caught up in the turkey versus eagle debate, Europeans had been raising and eating turkeys for over 250 years.

Christopher Columbus encountered birds that might have been turkeys, but his description of them is vague. Spanish explorers in Central America sent turkeys back to the Caribbean in the early 1500s. The first turkey probably reached Spain in 1519. A year later, one was sent to an Italian cardinal—with instructions not to eat it. By 1557, turkeys were so common (and apparently such a nuisance) in Venice that a special tax on them was passed. A pollo d’India (“chicken of the Indies”) shows up in a Roman fresco painted in 1523. Around 1560, Cosimo de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, ordered a life-size sculpture of a turkey for his villa near Florence. His cousin Catherine de’ Medici, the Queen of France, served seventy turkeys at a Paris banquet in 1549, six years before the first published depiction of a turkey was included in the book shown below, Pierre Belon’s L’histoire de la nature des oyseaux. (The first depiction of a turkey in a cookbook was printed in Germany in 1581.)

Pierre Belon, L'histoire de la nature des oyseaux (1555)

Pierre Belon, L’histoire de la nature des oyseaux (1555)

Turkeys were not just food for the rich. As historian Andrew Smith points out, they helped ward off starvation in Europe at a time when agricultural production was not keeping pace with population growth. The fact that the turkey is a hardy species capable of tolerating different climates helped, too. “Turkeys love hot countries, yet they can bear cold ones well enough,” the naturalist Eleazar Albin noted in 1731. Within about a hundred years of their arrival in Europe, turkeys were found on farms from Spain to Scandinavia. In 1667, a French observer said that they were driven long distances in flocks like sheep. Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds (1797) records that in England, where turkeys showed up sometime before 1541, they “are bred in great numbers in Norfolk, Suffolk, and other counties, from whence they are driven to the London markets in flocks of several hundreds each.” At least as early as 1594, people were raising extra fat turkeys by keeping them in tight pens that inhibited movement—a sad precursor of today’s industrial poultry farms.

George Edwards, A Natural History of Uncommon Birds (1743)

George Edwards, A Natural History of Uncommon Birds (1743)

Some turkeys, however, traveled the world. The remote island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic had free-range turkeys on it by 1588, even before it had permanent human residents. Portuguese sailors, realizing there was little meat on the island, probably left the flightless birds there while traveling to India so they would have food when they came back. Turkeys were marooned on other islands as well. And, of course, Europeans left turkeys in inhabited places, too. When Captain Cook stopped at Tahiti in 1777, for example, he gave turkeys and other domesticated animals to the islanders, partly as a gift, partly to ensure future food supply for other travelers.

Shown here are a few gorgeous gobblers from the McIlhenny Natural History Collection, which supports study in a wide range of disciplines, from science to social history. If you have any questions about the collection, feel free to contact us!

Further reading:

Andrew F. Smith, The Turkey: An American Story (2006)

Joyce Oldham Appleby, Shores of Knowledge: New World Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination (2013)

 

Ulisse Aldrovandi, Ornithologiae (1599)

Ulisse Aldrovandi, Ornithologiae (1599)

Mathurin-Jacque Brisson, Ornithologia (1760)

Mathurin-Jacques Brisson, Ornithologia (1760)

Daniel Giraud Elliot, A Monograph of the Phasianidæ, or Family of the Pheasants (1872)

Daniel Giraud Elliot, A Monograph of the Phasianidæ, or Family of the Pheasants (1872)

Posted in Special Collections Tagged with: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Recent faculty publications

2022

Kelsey, Sigrid, ed. Fostering Student Success: Academic, Social, and Financial Initiatives, ALA Editions, 2022.

2021

O’Neill, Brittany. “Do They Know It When They See It?: Natural Language Preferences of Undergraduate Students for Library Resources,” College & Undergraduate Libraries. Volume 28, Issue 2 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1080/10691316.2021.1920535

O’Neill, Brittany and Rebecca Kelley. “Delivering Bad News: Crisis Communication Methods in Academic Libraries,” College & Research Libraries, Volume 82, Issue 3 (May 2021). https://doi.org/10.5860/crl.82.3.310

Connel, Ruth Sara; Lisa C. Wallis; David Comeaux. “The Impact of COVID-19 on the Use of Academic Library Resources,” Information Technology and Libraries. Volume 40, Issue 2 (2021). https://doi.org/10.6017/ital.v40i2.12629

O’Neill, B. (2021).”Three-layer primary source dip: Introducing history students to primary source research through active learning.” In The teaching with primary sources cookbook, edited by J. M. Porterfield, 16-18. Association of College & Research Libraries, 2021.

2020 

Blessinger, Kelly and Dave Comeaux. “User Experience with a New Public Interface for an Integrated Library System,” Information Technology in Libraries. Volume 39, Issue 1. https://doi.org/10.6017/ital.v39i1.11607

Cramer, Jennifer A. “First, Do No Harm”: Tread Carefully Where Oral History, Trauma, and Current Crises Intersect,” The Oral History Review, 47:2 (2020): 203-213, DOI: 10.1080/00940798.2020.1793679

Diamond, Tom, ed. The Academic Librarian in the Digital Age: Essays on Changing Roles and Responsibilities. McFarland, 2020.

Kelley, Rebecca and Mitch Fontenot. “Serving our Student Veterans in Louisiana,” Louisiana Libraries. Volume 82, Issue 2 (Spring 2020).

Kuyper-Rushing, Lois.A Thematic Index of Works by Eugene Bozza, A-R Editions, 2020.

Lounsberry, Megan. “Troubleshooting electronic resources from an ILL perspective,” Technical Services Quarterly, Volume 37, Issue 3.
https://doi.org/10.1080/07317131.2020.1768699

McDonald, Ebony. “2020 Regina Medal Recipient Christopher Paul Curtis,” Catholic Library World. 

Miles, John David.  “James Harrison and the Tensas Troubles of 1878,” Civil War Book Review: Volume 22, Issue 1 (Winter 2020).

Morgan, Randa Lopez. 2020. “Supporting Student Wellness and Success through the LSU Libraries Relaxation Room.Journal of Library Outreach and Engagement v. 1, no. 1: 104–115.

2019

Batte, Elizabeth; David Dunaway; Emily Frank; Sarah Mazur; and Laurie Phillips. “LOUIS Membership with Open Textbook Network Brings Incentive for Faculty OER Advocacy on Campuses,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Borchardt, Rachel; Polly Boruff-Jones; Sigrid Kelsey; and Jennifer Matthews, “A Proposed Framework for the Evaluation of Academic Librarian Scholarship” (2019). Proceedings of the Charleston Library Conference.

Comeaux, Dave;  Emily Frank; and Mike Waugh. “Supporting Student Success: E-books as Course Materials,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Dunaway, David. “Bibliometrics for Faculty Evaluation: A Stastical Comparison of h-indexes Generated Using Google Scholar and Web of Science Data,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Haber, Natalie, Melissa Cornwell, & Andrea Hebert. “This worksheet works: Making the DLS Standards work for you,” College & Research Libraries News. 

Hawk, Amanda K. “Implementing Standardized Statistical Measures and Metrics for Public Services in Archival Repositories and Special Collections Libraries,” Proceedings of the 2018 Library Assessment Conference, (Association of Research Libraries, 2019): 836-843. https://doi.org/10.29242/lac.2018.78

Hebert, Andrea and Jodi Duet. “’I’m Really Confident I Can Find the Exact IKEA Pillow’: A Qualitative Look at the Search Self-Efficacy of Graduating MLIS Students,” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639269.2017.1690891.

Lounsberry, Megan. “No Textbooks Allowed! (Unless You’re a Graduate Student!): Louisiana State University Pilots an ILL Textbook Service. Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, 28 (3/4): 61–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/1072303X.2019.1676862

Miles, John David. “Colfax, Kate Grant, and the Domestication of Reconstruction’s Violence,” Civil War Book Review. Volume 21, Issue 2 (Spring 2019).

Miles, John David. “The Loyalty of West Point’s Graduates Debated,” Civil War Book Review. Volume 21, Issue 1 (Winter 2019).

Miller, Marty. “Curriculum, Departmental, and Faculty Mapping in the Visual Arts Department,” Art Documentation, Volume 38, Issue 1 (March 2019): 159-173.

Morgan, Randa L. “Libraries and Gardens: Growing Together.” Catholic Library World, Volume 90, Issue 1 (September 2019): 68.

O’Neill, Brittany; and  Allen LeBlanc. “Evaluating Trends in Instruction Scheduling Management: A Survey of Louisiana’s Academic Libraries,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Russo, Michael, “The Moon Belongs to Everyone:  ResearchGate and Subscription Databases Compared.”  Louisiana Libraries. Volume 81, Issue 3, (Winter 2019).

Russo, Michael, “Information Literacy through Service Learning” in Library Collaborations and Community Partnerships: Enhancing Health and Quality of Life.  Fannie M. Cox, Henry R. Cunningham, and Vickie Hines-Martin, eds., 2019.

Simms, Sarah; Hayley Johnson. “Hidden in Plain Sight,” 64 Parishes (Magazine of the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities). Issue 4 (Summer 2019). https://64parishes.org/hidden-in-plain-sight.

Simms, S., & Johnson, H. Subtle activism: Using the library exhibit as a social justice tool, Alexandria, Volume 29, Issue 1-2 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1177/0955749019876119.

Ziegler, Scott; and Cara Key. “More Than a Pretty Interface: The Louisiana Digital Library as a Data Hub,” CODEX: Journal of the Louisiana Chapter of the ACRL. Volume 5, Issue 2 (Fall/Winter 2019).

Ziegler, S.L. “Digitization Selection Criteria as Anti-Racist Action,” Code4Lib Journal. Issue 45 (2019). https://journal.code4lib.org/articles/14667

Ziegler, S.L. and Steve Martin. “A Hidden Gem Becomes a Fertile Mining Ground: Historic Prison Admission Books and Data-Driven Digital Projects,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography Volume 143, Issue 3 (October 2019): 363-373.

2018

Hebert, Andrea. “Information Literacy Skills of First-Year Library and Information Science Graduate Students: An Exploratory Study,” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice Volume 13, Issue 3 (September 2018).

Miller, Marty. “Sacred vs. Profane in The Great War: A Neutral’s Indictment: Louis Raemaekers’s Use of Religious Imagery in Adoration of the Magi and Our Lady of Antwerp.” Catholic Library World, vol. 89, no. 1, Sept. 2018, pp. 20–32.

Rasmussen, Hans. “The Life and Death of Raquette in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans,” Sport History Review 49 (May 2018): 23-38.

Wilder, Stanley. “Delayed Retirements and the Youth Movement among ARL Library Professionals,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Wilder, Stanley. “Hiring and Staffing Trends in ARL Libraries,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Wilder, Stanley. “Selected Demographic Trends in the ARL Professional Population,” Research Library Issues, no. 295 (2018).

Ziegler, Scott; and Richard Shrake. “PAL: Toward a Recommendation System for Manuscripts,” Information Technology and Libraries, Vol. 37, No. 3 (2018).

2017

Caminita, C.; Cook, M.; and Paster, A. (2017). Thirty years of preserving, discovering, and accessing U.S. agricultural information: Past progress and current challenges. Library Trends, 65(3), 293-315.

Dauterive, Sarah; John Bourgeois; and Sarah Simms. “How little is too little? An examination of information literacy instruction duration for freshmen.” Journal of Information Literacy, 11.1 (2017): 204-219.

Fontenot, Mitch; Emily Frank; and Andrea Hebert. “Going Where the Users Are: Three Variations on a Theme,” Louisiana Libraries, Fall 2017.

Hawk, Amanda K. “Highflying Crowdfunding: Creating a Successful Partnership with a Campus Donor,” Archival Outlook, July/August 2017: 12-13, 19. https://www.bluetoad.com/publication/?i=422988.

Hebert, Andrea; and Marty Miller. (2017). Using FSA-OWI photographs to teach information and visual literacy. Louisiana Libraries, 79(3), 19–25.

Johnson, Hayley. “#NoDAPL: Social Media, Empowerment, and Civic Participation at Standing Rock,” Library Trends, Fall 2017.

More…