Maryland Historical Society Awards Brewington Book Prize To Kate Livie for Chesapeake Oysters

BALTIMORE, May 2, 2016 - At its April 2016 meeting, the maritime committee of the Maryland Historical Society awarded the 2016 Brewington Book Prize to Kate Livie for her book, Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay's Foundation and Future (Charleston, S.C.: History Press, 2015).

The Brewington Book Prize is awarded annually by the Maryland Historical Society's maritime committee for the best book on the maritime history, or current aspects of maritime affairs, related to the Chesapeake Bay or the nation. The Prize, which comes with a $1,000 honorarium, is named for Marion Brewington, a legendary maritime curator and historian. This year, the maritime committee considered eight outstanding books in the field.

According to Dr. William S. Dudley, the chairman of the task force that selected Livie's book, Chesapeake Oysters was their unanimous choice, "selected for its breadth of research in terms of the Bay's oyster fishery and its economic and cultural impact on the development of the Chesapeake Bay region and beyond; the importance of the topic for those who would understand the ecological impact of oystering upon the health of the Bay; author Livie's graceful prose and selection of lively anecdotes; and her valuable contribution linking the history of oystering, oystermen, politics, and the current role of aquaculture in the future of the seafood industry."

Kate Livie is an educator, writer, and historian. An Eastern Shore native, Livie is the director of education at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland. An avid commentator on Chesapeake topics, Livie is the author and photographer of the tumblr 'beautifulswimmers', covering the Bay's culture, environment and history, and has contributed to regional and national magazines on Chesapeake Bay topics. Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay's Foundation and Future is her first book.

Marion Brewington (1902-74) was a distinguished maritime curator and historian. During World War II, he was a curator for the Navy. After the war, he was the maritime curator of the Maryland Historical Society, a trustee of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, and held curatorial and administrative positions at the Peabody Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, and at the Kendall Whaling Museum in Sharon, Massachusetts. His books include Chesapeake Bay: A Pictorial History, and Chesapeake Bay Log Canoes and Bugeyes.

About The Maryland Historical Society

Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine." Visit

For more details, contact Marketing Director Laura Rodini at or by phone: 410-685-3750 ext. 322.



Spinsheet- A Passion for Oysters

From Spinsheet

January 30, 2016

Last fall, the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum’s director of education published a new book on the Bay’s beloved bivalve. Kate Livie’s book, “Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay’s Foundation and Future,” has created a lot of buzz in the maritime community so we thought we should get to know a little bit more about the author.

Also be sure to mark these upcoming Meet the Author talks on your calendar: Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center in Grasonville, MD, and March 11 at 7 p.m. at the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons. For more info on the author, visit

Did you grow up in Maryland? What started your interest in oysters?

“I was born and raised in Chestertown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, so I would absolutely consider myself a local girl. I grew up spending my summers on the water, catching crabs and swimming in the Chester River. Members of my family, which are sixth generation Kent County on my mother’s side, had worked and still work as watermen, so oysters were always a part of our winter traditions. I grew up eating raw oysters at my Pop-pop’s picnic table in the backyard. He would shuck them right into my mouth when I was small. Jumping ahead, in 2008, I started working at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum as a museum educator, where I started to see the deeper role oysters played in the Chesapeake’s culture and environment, both historically and today. After that I was hooked, and oysters have been my passion and focus ever since.”

Where did you go to college?

“My undergraduate degree is from Towson University, where I majored in Art History. For me, art history was history as told through images, like a picture book, whereas now, I tell history through objects, which is an even better, more tangible medium for people to connect with the past.”

How long have you been with CBMM?

“I’ve been with CBMM for almost nine years, serving as the Director of Education for five years. Before CBMM, I worked with the Sultana Education Foundation in Chestertown and George Washington’s Mount Vernon.”

How long did you work on your book?

“I worked on the book for two and a half years. It started because of the education blog I write for CBMM,, which chronicles the stories of the Chesapeake’s people and landscape. I’ve been actively blogging for five years, and in the meantime, my writing caught the eye of an editor with History Press. After reading my work, they approached me about writing a book on crabs, which I wasn’t too keen on since I think there can hardly be a follow up to William Warner’s classic, “Beautiful Swimmers,” (which incidentally inspired the name of my blog). Long story short, I came back to my publisher with another idea, to write a book on my real passion – oysters. And so the very long process of writing and researching the book started!”

What was the most rewarding part of your research?

“Of course I loved researching the consumer side of the oyster industry (read: eating oysters!), but I think what I really enjoyed was meeting and interviewing so many people for the book. Oyster scientists, Jamestown archaeologists, watermen, oyster farmers – there are so many stakeholders in the Bay’s past and future and they are truly informed and passionate about the Chesapeake’s shellfish industry and the role oysters have played in shaping our Bay’s environment and traditions. I would sit down with people, over a beer or a meal, and just let them talk about their area of expertise. I got some wonderful stories – from the head chef at Colonial williamsburg, say, about how oysters were commonly pickled, or from a modern oyster connoisseur like Julie Qiu, who talked about what foodies think of modern farmed oysters from the Bay. It was important to me that people who have spent their lives somehow involved with Chesapeake oysters get to have a voice in the book – it’s a series of narrators, not just me telling the story.”

Chesapeake Bay Journal- Getting Livie About Oysters

Rona Kobell, left, will interview Kate Livie at Baltimore's Mt. Vernon Marketplace about her new book, Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay's Foundation and Future.

Rona Kobell, left, will interview Kate Livie at Baltimore's Mt. Vernon Marketplace about her new book, Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay's Foundation and Future.

Getting Livie About Oysters

Baltimore Event Features Author of New Book About Bay's Bivalves

January 26, 2016, by Rona Kobell

From Jonathan Swift to M.F.K. Fisher, Ernest Hemingway to Anton Chekhov, writers of the world have long been enamored with the oysters of the world.

What is it about these morsels of the sea that so captivates us? As Swift once famously said, “It was a bold man who first ate an oyster.” (Swift apparently borrowed the quote from writer Thomas Fuller, and ascribed some other strange properties to the oyster that, scientifically, it is not known to have.

I remember not liking my first one, consumed on a camping trip and “Chincotized” in the salty waters of the bay. But my second one? It was roasted in the oven, topped with bacon and cheese, and served in the warmth of a country club next to the farmer who harvested it. That oyster remains the best thing I have ever eaten.

For me, oysters are much more than food. They are even more than the ecological kidneys of the Chesapeake; more than a bulwark against sea-level rise, or than a crucial habitat for worms, fish and crabs. They’re not just an important piece in the history of Baltimore - as an oyster canning capital – or of the rest of seaside Maryland and Virginia, which once made a living from the country’s great protein factory, as H.L. Mencken once called the Chesapeake.

Oysters give us hope - that all is not lost, that a species once almost gone can come back, and that how we manage what’s left of our fishery will speak volumes about whether we’ve learned from our past.

All that, and they only move for two weeks of their lives.

Now we have another writer, Kate Livie, telling us the story of our oysters. Livie is the director of education at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and an Eastern Shore native. Her father introduced her to oysters, and like many of us, she fell in love with the species. Her new book, Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay’s Foundation and Future, is a lively history of oysters, and a preview of what’s next for this species. (It’s also filled with a lot of well-presented information about the animal’s biology.)

On Wednesday, Feb. 3, I will be interviewing Livie about her book at The Local Oyster, a new oyster bar in downtown Baltimore. For an oyster nerd like me, it’s a real honor. The location in Mt. Vernon Marketplace is special, too, because Baltimore-based oyster farmer Patrick Hudson co-owns the restaurant there. He graciously allowed me to play “oyster farmer for a day” and write about it for the Bay Journal.

The event will be from 7 to 9 p.m. at the market, which is at 520 Park Avenue in Baltimore. It’s a beautiful place; the builders did a lovely job.

There will be oysters, drinks, and great conversation.

And it’s FREE.

Livie will have signed copies of her book for sale. I will have copies of the Bay Journal for free. And Patrick and his team will make sure you have delicious oysters. It’s a can’t-miss, especially now that I can get out of my driveway.

Come on out and join us.

WAMU Interview- Why It's A Great Time To Be A Chesapeake Oyster Lover

Kate Livie, author of the new book "Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay's Foundation and Future," shucks an Old Black Salt oyster at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in Washington.

Kate Livie, author of the new book "Chesapeake Oysters: The Bay's Foundation and Future," shucks an Old Black Salt oyster at Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in Washington.

To listen to the Metro Connection segment:

Why It's A Great Time To Be A Chesapeake Oyster Lover

By: Lauren Ober
November 20, 2015

Livie is the director of education at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michael’s on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. And she’s a local, which means she’s been eating oysters ever since she was a kid.

WAMU recently caught up with Livie at the Pearl Dive Oyster Palace in northwest Washington and talked with her about these briny little mollusks and their impact on the Bay.

What is it about oysters that you wanted to take a deep dive into?

I think out of all the species that are in the Bay, oysters have this interwoven history with the Chesapeake’s people. Oysters were this really compelling catalyst for colonization, for the oyster boom of the 19th century and this ongoing discussion today.

Oysters are a controversial topic. Also they encompass a lot of our fears about the future — what’s happening with our environment, what can we control, is there such a thing as a sustainable fishery? So much is going on around the oyster and I found all these issues so fascinating.

Now it seems like from what you describe in the book that there are two major declines in the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay. How did they each start and what was the result of each?

The first decline is really a result of over-harvesting. We’re looking at just this ceaseless harvest of oysters in the 19th century, between the 1860s and the 1880s to 1890s. People are harvesting oysters not just for the meat, but for the shell. So they’re grinding up the shell and putting it in fertilizer or chicken feed.

And it’s not just the oysters themselves that are being destroyed. It’s also the reef structure, this source of biodiversity in the Bay. And so in the 1890s to the turn of the century, there’s new science that explores how oysters can be replenished. You really saw a sort of fruitful era of salad days for the Chesapeake to the nineteen-teens all the way up until the 1950s.

Maybe we could’ve continued with the sustainable wild fishery except for the arrival of two oyster diseases. Because of these diseases, this traditional oyster fishery was just destroyed. It was those diseases that were really the catalyst for environmental changes in the Bay and also for our rethinking of the Chesapeake stance on aquaculture.

So what is the state of oysters for consumption in the Bay today?

There is still a wild fishery in the Chesapeake, which may surprise some people. But typically wild oysters go mainly to the packinghouse market. They’re going to be shucked into those plastic containers that you see at the grocery store.

But then there’s a whole new side of the industry that’s exploded because of the work done to figure out what was going to be the solution to all these dead oysters in the Chesapeake. Thanks to science, recently people have figured out how to do aquaculture here.

The idea is that it’s farming very much like a land farm. You’ve got your crop, which is your oyster seed. You grow it in floats. And you maintain it the same way you would a crop. What we’re seeing is this explosion of oyster farms, which is the best thing ever. For oyster consumers in the Chesapeake, we’re seeing a renaissance.

What’s your strategy for ordering oysters at a restaurant?

It’s most important to get a variety that’s from different locations. That’s how you really compare and contrast between the flavors. Think of each oyster as a sea capsule containing the essential aspects of its environment from wherever it is. If it grew in an oyster bar that’s right near a marsh, it might taste green. Or if it grew at the bottom of the Bay right near the ocean, it’s going to be crunchy with salt. Oysters that are from the northern part of the Bay typically have a buttery consistency and flavor.

That’s just the initial experience. Then you chew it up and then other aspects of the flavor start to develop — coppery notes, or the minerality of the oyster, what has it ingested, that kind of thing. Then there’s the finish.

Do you have a favorite Chesapeake Bay oyster?

They’re all very different. So choosing a favorite isn’t because the other ones are bad, it’s just because that’s your preference.