Zoos and Global History

AHA Session 42
Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom H (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Nigel Rothfels, University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
(Re)introducing Animals into Zoo History
Violette Pouillard, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford
The Zoonotic Nature of Tuberculosis
Daniel Vandersommers, McMaster University
Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Session Abstract

Between the end of the eighteenth century and the twentieth century, zoological parks became cornerstones of the “modern” city. Within these institutions, zoogoers learned to think both nationally and imperially. They became consumers in a marketplace of creatures that spanned the planet. They remade environments, both local and global. They forged new knowledge and utilized new technologies. They also projected their prejudices. Indeed, within the space of the zoo, zoogoers forged modernity— they rehearsed its narratives of progress and its narratives of tragedy. Zoological parks brought together hundreds of millions of human and nonhuman animals across six continents. As one historian recently noted: global (and conservative) zoo annual attendance figures can be estimated today around 675 million. Zoological parks are powerful historical forces.

Late in the twentieth century, historians realized the significance of zoological parks. Primary interpretations of zoos focus on the master narratives placed onto zoo animals, discourses based around the constructs of empire, class, nationhood, and globalization. Yet this is only the beginning. This panel seeks to amplify both the historical significance of zoological parks and the myriad opportunities that they (as subjects) offer to scholars not only within the historical profession, but also ranging across the arts and humanities.

Violette Pouillard (University of Oxford) will explore human relations with wildlife between the nineteenth century and present times. She will employ methods derived from animals studies, French historiography, environmental history, and animal history, and will focus on zoos located in Paris, London, and Antwerp. Takashi Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies) will use the Asahiyama Zoo in Japan’s northernmost Hokkaido island to examine the role of public media, anthropomorphization, and “the lost decade” in Japanese history since the 1960s. Marianna Szczygielska (Central European University) will discuss the development of taxidermic taxonomy within the space of the zoological park. Utilizing methods from queer theory, gender studies, and science studies, she will show that the zoological garden was an important scientific model for both working out basic understandings of biology and nature, and for developing medical and psychiatric classifications of “sexual disorders.” Daniel Vandersommers (University of Mississippi) will explore the intertwined history of tuberculosis and the National Zoological Park in the first decade of the twentieth century. He will argue that the zoo functioned as a medical institution that constructed knowledge about the disease, influencing how the disease was treated both inside and outside the zoo. Together, these papers will be examining the significance of zoological parks in modern, global history.

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