Friday, March 02, 2007

Calling all chicken thieves

Get ready, guys, here comes a serious academic post. (Can you believe I originally meant this to be an academic blog? I did, but then everybody started getting in trouble or fired for their blogs, and I chickened out.)

Ha! What a great segue! Speaking of chickens, that's my question. A student of mine (we'll call her Clever Shy Girl) is working on a great project related to gender and crime in the 18th century, and among other things she has a list of cases of people stealing animals (horses, sheep, pheasants, rabbits, you name it). Mostly just one animal is stolen, or a few easily herdable animals, like sheep. But in a few cases, a single person is accused of having stolen chickens - lots of chickens, in one case a few dozen chickens.

Initially CSG just plugged this information into the database with everything else and worked on figuring out the patterns of who was stealing what from whom... but then as we talked about people's reasons for stealing animals (to sell? to eat?) we started to do more imagining about how those thefts would actually have worked, and we began to wonder: how does one person steal a whole bunch of chickens? These were live chickens, and I can imagine one person carrying two chickens, or maybe four or five in a sack, but twenty or thirty chickens? How do you do that? You'd have to at least have crates, and then some sort of small cart, and even then it seems like a pretty messy and complicated endeavor.

CSG and I are both city girls, with little experience in the ways of chickens, so I called my sister. Art Sister doesn't have chickens, but she lives in a small town and works part-time for the county extension office, so I figured she must know somebody who knows about chickens. She confirmed that it's virtually impossible to carry more than one chicken at a time, but didn't know more than that. I asked her: "Surely you know someone who raises chickens?" and she said "Well, yes, I do, but I am NOT going to call them up and tell them that my sister wants to know how to steal chickens."

My sister does not have the proper adventurous spirit necessary for academic pursuits.

So I turn to you: some of you are historians, and some of you are rural, and all of you are good creative adventurous thinkers. Give me a brainstorm on this one: if you were suddenly taken with the desire to go out and steal say twenty or thirty chickens, given the ordinary tools and resources available to a relatively poor person in the 18th century, how would you go about it?

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