Governing Human and Animal Populations from the Colonial to the Postcolonial World

AHA Session 209
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Session Abstract

As humans embarked on colonial conquest, expansion, and migration, animals were brought along deliberately and unintentionally. For instance, colonizers depended on domesticated animals as sources of food and labor in the territories, and researchers employed animals in scientific experiments to develop medical and other interventions to support imperialism. Agricultural, ecological, veterinary, and medical professionals positioned themselves to support governments in devising techniques for the management of animal populations across metropoles and colonies. This panel explores the different practices of governing animal populations and the role of animals in French, British, and US colonial, imperial, and postcolonial projects from the 1760s to the 1960s. The panel’s comparative longue durée analysis of interventions in the critters’ lives and movements shows how colonial and postcolonial administrators created different categories of animal according to species, age, origin, or use. Both “humans” and “animals” emerge as heterogeneous experiential and political categories. The papers in this session uncover the relationships between humans and other animals through attention to different forms of governance within and across the categories of humans and animals. When humans managed animals, they also intervened on the relationships between humans, from scales as small as colonial estates and laboratories to as large as whole ecological environments and international trade. Governance of human and animal populations has thus differentiated as much as flattened the two categories.

The papers center on human-animal relations as shaped by the governance of health, specifically, the health of non-human animals as an end in itself, the role of animals in global economy and food distribution, animals as model organisms in medical experimentation, and the health of the ecological environments. Jessica Wang examines how American colonial governance over animal importation in early twentieth-century Hawaiʻi aspired to nothing less than the wholesale biological and ecological management of the territory, in order to protect human health, maintain access to animals as sources of food and labor, and defend what agricultural and veterinary experts understood as delicate island ecosystems. Lucas Mueller analyzes how species- and age-specific categories shaped the science and production of animal and plant protein for nourishing human populations across postwar Great Britain and postcolonial East Africa. Kit Heintzman turns to the first formal integration of a veterinarian into French colonialism in the late eighteenth century to understand how species-specific labor conditions impacted resource allocations for slaves, horses, and cattle. Aro Velmet looks at the interwar development of a yellow fever vaccine from the perspective of laboratory animals – mice, mosquitoes, and monkeys – revealing how the economy and ecology of laboratory life pushed two competing research institutions to collaborate, and created political turmoil between French and British colonizers in 1930s West Africa. It aims to speak to scholars interested in the medical humanities, history of animals, and colonial/imperial governance.

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