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Consuming Empire: Eating Animals in the Early Modern Atlantic World, 1492–1630

Danielle Alesi, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation demonstrates how the concept of edibility as it pertained to animals was both culturally constructed and changed over time as settler colonialism took root in the early modern Atlantic World. In the first phases of Atlantic World colonization, Europeans traveled throughout the Americas and ate a wide variety of unfamiliar indigenous animals. Indigenous species, like iguanas, armadillos, crocodiles, and manatees appear throughout early colonization narratives as food that the Europeans ate, and largely enjoyed, usually at the behest of their Indigenous hosts. However, as Europeans created more permanent settlements, increased the importation and production of European livestock, and developed their colonial systems, most of these animals, disappeared from the colonial diet. Instead, European settlers placed increasing importance on eating European food, especially animals and animal products, to preserve their identities and distinguish themselves from Indigenous populations. Thus, certain animals became less “edible” in the eyes of European settlers for purely cultural reasons.

Subject Area

World History|Native American studies|History|Religion

Recommended Citation

Alesi, Danielle, "Consuming Empire: Eating Animals in the Early Modern Atlantic World, 1492–1630" (2021). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI28650177.