Virginia L. Butler

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Anthropology



Physical Description

1 online resource (xvi, 182 pages)


Studies of historic fish archaeofaunas can contribute to our understanding of Victorian-era consumer choice and agency. However, most zooarchaeological work focuses on interpreting large mammal remains such as cow (Bos taurus). That fish are overlooked is particularly striking in the Pacific Northwest, where fishing was a major facet of both the bourgeoning industrial economy and local household practices. My thesis addresses this gap through study of archival records (mainly newspapers) and zooarchaeological fish records from a neighborhood in Vancouver, Washington, U.S.A., focusing on the period between 1880 and 1910. My particular goals were to examine how fishes were acquired and their economic role in a market economy.

I conducted archival research through systematic and qualitative reviews of The Oregonian and other newspapers in Oregon and Washington. I recorded 105 different named fishes, which I linked to 46 Linnaean taxa; 76 fishes were listed with price information in advertisements. I connected these fishes to market acquisition, and the remaining fishes to personal catch. I ranked the sixteen most prominent fishes by their price. Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) was the most expensive, and Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus) was the least expensive. Five ranked fishes were introduced; all of these were in the top 50% of the ranking. Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) was advertised the most frequently, but was in the lower 50% of the ranking. Some fishes (e.g., common carp [Cyprinus carpio]) were heavily promoted by federal entities and private entrepreneurs, but viewed negatively by consumers.

The zooarchaeological portion of my study focused on privies from the Esther Short neighborhood (Vancouver, WA), which, between 1880 and 1910, was a predominantly middle- and working-class community, occupied by people of European ancestry. The fish fauna (total NISP: 1,282) had previously been documented by Krey Easton. I reanalyzed ~30% of the fish remains to verify identifications; our results were highly correlated. Ten fish families representing 16 taxa were recorded in the assemblage. Both introduced fishes (n = 6 taxa) and native fishes (n = 10 taxa) were present. Catfish (Ictaluridae) dominated the assemblage (76%). Salmonids represented 15%. I recorded five new taxa from specimens previously noted as "unidentified". I documented body part representation and butchering marks to establish the fish portions Esther Short residents acquired. Finally, I compared archaeofaunal fish representation against the fish rank obtained from archival research.

Residents acquired fishes both as market purchases and through personal catch. Eight fish taxa in the assemblage represented market purchases. Four were nonmarket fishes. An additional four could represent either market or nonmarket fishes. Nine taxa recovered from the neighborhood were also fishes included in the ranking. Neighborhood residents were predominantly eating low-cost purchased catfish heads, which were likely incorporated into soups, stews, or chowders. I found some evidence for higher-cost purchases and fish steaks, which I loosely connected to conspicuous consumerism. Evidence of personal catch (sport and subsistence angling) illustrates agency and potential resistance to the systemic Victorian model, in which the middle class generally did not participate in such activities.

My thesis shows that interpreting fish use provides valuable insights into historical-era consumer choice and agency. On a systemic level, fish use was driven by sources of authority and monied interests. Expression of identity was visible in structural responses to systemic forces, both through consumer choice within the markets, and rejection of the market economy. Fish use in the Esther Short neighborhood showed some household patterns of "purchasing within one's means", as well as several expressions of agency that conformed to or rejected Victorian-era ideals.

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