Article ID: CBB716257904

The limits of imperial influence: John James Audubon in British North America (2020)


For two decades, John James Audubon (1785–1851) travelled widely and frequently while working on his illustrated natural history volumes – still highly prized today for their aesthetic and scientific merit: Birds of America (1827–1838) and Viviparous Quadrupeds of North America (1846–1854). Neither independently wealthy nor employed as a salaried scientist, the artist-naturalist with a flair for marketing financed his projects by selling subscriptions. Successfully marketing Birds to members of the British aristocracy, as well as to organizations and to artistic and intellectual elites, Audubon was reluctant to take Quadrupeds to Britain even though sales there were key to the financial viability of his work. Instead, in 1842 Audubon travelled to Canada (now Ontario and Quebec), the most populous region of British North America. The colony was, he calculated, a viable source of subscribers; however, he was wrong. Moreover, having travelled to British North America previously, he should have expected modest returns. Nonetheless, he was optimistic that this expedition would succeed where those to New Brunswick (1832) and Labrador and Newfoundland (1833) had failed. This paper examines why success eluded Audubon in the colonies, arguing that entrepreneurialism buttressed by patronage – a winning strategy in Britain – failed because there was a vast difference between metropolis and hinterland when it came to supporting the arts and sciences.

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Authors & Contributors
Martin A. Sidor
Peter B. Logan
Subhankar Banerjee
Russell, Peter A.
Villaveces, José L.
Souder, William
William and Mary Quarterly
Scientia Canadensis: Journal of the History of Canadian Science, Technology, and Medicine
Reviews in American History
Huntington Library Quarterly
Archives of Natural History
McGill-Queen's University Press
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division
University of Georgia Press
University of Chicago Press
North Point/FSG
NMS Publishing
Natural history
Science and art
Science and society
Funding and finance
Audubon, John James
MacGillivray, William
Klein, Felix
Bachman, John
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century, late
20th century, early
Québec (Canada)
Ontario (Canada)
United States
Edinburgh (Scotland)
Philadelphia, PA
National Audubon Society

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