(Re)introducing Animals into Zoo History

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM
Centennial Ballroom H (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Violette Pouillard, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford
Although historical works have sometimes considered captive animals as elements of decor in a human history, several historical studies pay attention to them as objects of human projections and representations and, albeit to a lesser extent, of human practices. Furthermore, in recent years, developments in animal studies and in French historiography, especially in the fields of the history of the environment and the history of animals[1], have introduced a symmetrical perspective which considers both human policies and practices and animal lives. Following these last developments, this contribution will focus on the history of zoo animals. It will first pay attention to the heuristic and methodological aspects involved in the historical study of the materiality of animal lives. It will particularly show how archival material allows us to investigate the history of animals in context on the long term through several ways– notably the provenance of zoo animals, their movements into and between zoos, their physical and social captive environments, their behaviours, their physical condition and their longevity– and will present a specific methodology, founded on the crossing of descriptive and quantitative data. This contribution will then, by focusing on concrete examples and results stemming from research on the Menagerie du Jardin des Plantes (Paris), London Zoo and Antwerp Zoo, from the nineteenth century to the present times, demonstrate how this approach can shed new light on the history of zoological gardens and, more broadly, on the history of the relations with wildlife, notably by challenging the chronology and highlighting permanencies on the long term.

[1] Eric Baratay, « Building an Animal History », Louisa MacKenzie, Stephanie Posthumus (ed.), French Thinking about Animals, East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 2015, p. 3-14, Grégory Quenet, Versailles, une histoire naturelle, Paris, La Découverte, 2015.

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