This definitive environmental history of medieval fish and fisheries provides a comprehensive examination of European engagement with aquatic systems between c. 500 and 1500 CE. Using textual, zooarchaeological, and natural records, Richard C. Hoffmann's unique study spans marine and freshwater fisheries across western Christendom, discusses the effects of human-nature relations and presents a deeper understanding of evolving European aquatic ecosystems. Changing climates, landscapes, and fishing pressures affected local stocks enough to shift values of fish, fishing rights, and dietary expectations. Readers learn what the abbess Waldetrudis in seventh-century Hainault, King Ramiro II (d.1157) of Aragon, and thirteenth-century physician Aldebrandin of Siena shared with English antiquarian William Worcester (d. 1482), and the young Martin Luther growing up in Germany soon thereafter. Sturgeon and herring, carp, cod, and tuna played distinctive roles. Hoffmann highlights how encounters between medieval Europeans and fish had consequences for society and the environment – then and now.
Considering fisheries: medieval Europe and its legacies
1. 'Natural' aquatic ecosystems around Late Holocene Europe
2. Protein, penance, and prestige: medieval demand for fish
3. Take and eat: subsistence fishing in and beyond the Early Middle Ages
4. Master artisans and local markets
5. Aquatic systems under stress, ca. 1000–1350
6. Cultural responses to scarcities of fish
7. Going beyond natural local ecosystems I: carp aquaculture as ecological revolution
8. Going beyond natural local ecosystems II: over the horizon toward abundance and 'tragedy'
9. Last casts: two perspectives on past environmental relations
Richard Hoffmann is Professor Emeritus in History at York University, Toronto, and author of the acclaimed An Environmental History of Medieval Europe (Cambridge, 2014).
"The Catch represents a landmark contribution to pre-modern environmental history. Its multi-disciplinary approach to the ecosystems, habitats, consumers, and exploiters of medieval fisheries convincingly tracks historic changes in fisheries caused not only by human contact but also by climatic conditions that affected hydrology, biology, and ecology. Supported with numerous charts, maps, and data drawn from research on a wide variety of source material across Europe, Hoffman's study will be the standard work in the field for years to come."
– Maryanne Kowaleski, Fordham University
"Richard Hoffman's book is a marvellous synthesis of his lifetime of research into fish, fishing, and fish consumption in the Middle Ages. He has seamlessly integrated historic records, archaeology, fish ecology and biology. The case studies that document the decline of certain species make it crucial reading for fishery biologists as well as historians and archaeologists."
– Dale Serjeantson, University of Southampton