This is my evolving annotated bibliography of readings on animals and empire. I’ll try to keep adding to it as I read things and as things are suggested to me. It’s a long way from being comprehensive and reflects my particular interests. It focuses mostly on imperialism in the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and particularly on colonial Asia. If you know of something that you think I should add, please let me know in the comments! Hope it’s useful.
I have organised the bibliography into ten thematic sections. There is considerable overlap between these sections, but hopefully this makes it a little easier to navigate. Here are links to the sections:
Animal Historiography: Methods and Theory
Hunting and Conservation
Epidemics and Epizootics
Breeding and Livestock
Eradication and Control
Cruelty and Care
Veterinary and Human Medicine
Animal Historiography: Methods and Theory
Animal historians, and philosophers, have had to think hard about what we mean by ‘animal’ and, but implication, what we mean by ‘human’. For a thoughtful and influential essay on the theoretical problems of animal history and its historiographic genealogy, then Erica Fudge, ‘A left-handed blow: writing the history of animals’, in Nigel Rothfels ed. Representing Animals (Bloomington, 2003), pp. 3-18 is a good place to start. This whole collection may also be useful. If this gets you interested in the philosophical ‘problem’ of animals, then have a bash at Jacques Derrida, ‘The animal that therefore I am (more to follow)’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 28, no. 3 (2002), pp. 369-418—but fair warning, it is not easy going! You should also look into the amazing work of Donna Haraway. More accessible and with some wonderfully interesting historical material is Joanna Bourke, What it means to be human: reflections from 1791 to the present (London, 2011), although it sticks pretty much on Britain and the US, albeit with some reflections on Haiti. For a classic in the genre covering the early modern period, from which Bourke picks up, it might be worth reading Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (London, 1984), particularly the first chapter, that has some suggestive material on how early empire shaped and informed understandings of animals. A recent overview of the methodological roots of animal history, and the potential impact that it can have on history as a discipline, see Hilda Kean, ‘Challenges for Historians Writing Animal Human History: What Is Really Enough?’, Anthrozoos, vol. 25, no. 1 (2012), pp. 57-72. These will hopefully get you thinking about what is at stake in animal history and help you to think critically about the human/non-human binary. Perhaps the most far-reaching engagement with thinking through animals and racial discourses is Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (New York, 2020) which exposes the liberal humanism lurking in antihumanist critical animal studies engagements with race. In opposition to this, she posits a powerful methodology based from the writings of Black thinkers that refuse this humanism and its animal exclusions. A must read, really.
The next problem for animal historians is the difficulties facing them uncovering and conceptualizing the role that animals play in history. If you want to read something on the more ‘extreme’ end of animal history, where animal history is being linked directly to the demand for animal rights, have a read of Jason Hribal, ‘“Animals are part of the working class”: a challenge to labor history’, Labor History, vol. 44, no. 4 (2003), pp. 435-453. Would love to hear your thoughts on this! For a related intervention into labour history, but rooted in South Asia, Heeral Chhabra, “Animal Labourers and the Law in Colonial India”, South Asia Research, vol. 39, no. 2 (2019), pp. 166-183 is a great blend of theory and insights into legal history. For more on the problems of agency, Brett L. Walker, ‘Animals and the Intimacy of History’, History and Theory, vol. 52, no. 4 (2013), pp. 45-67 asks us what it means for historians to consider the fact that humans can become food for other creatures—gruesome but provocative. It is part of an excellent special collection theorising the place of animals in history. Some good articles in this collections include: Erica Fudge, ‘Milking Other Men’s Beasts’, History and Theory, vol. 52, no. 4 (2013), pp. 13-28 that applies today’s knowledge of animal welfare to explore the sensory history of animals in the past; and Mahesh Rangarajan, ‘Animals with Rich Histories: The Case of the Lions of Gir Forest, Gujarat, India’, History and Theory, vol. 52, no. 4 (2013), pp. 109-127, that considers the implications for historians of the capacity of lions to pass down memories. With a focus on the history of South Africa, Sandra Swart, ‘“But Where’s the Bloody Horse?”: Textuality and Corporeality in the “Animal Turn”’, Journal of Literary Studies, vol. 23, no. 3 (2007), pp. 271-292 explores the textual and the material presences of animals in history in order to argue for animal studies’ utility, but at the same time points out that it might not constitute a fundamental change in methodology.
Much of debate draws on the problem of animals’ subjective experiences, a problem explored in Thomas Nagel, ‘What is it Like to be a Bat?’, Philosophical Review, vol. 83, no. 4 (1974), pp. 435-450. In a more recent and incredibly engaging book Vinciane Despret, What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions? (Minneapolis, 2016) cutting edge post-humanist approaches are used to take apart scientific assumptions about animals’ behaviours to reveal the fascinating stories of animal worlds. Historians are also finding ways of bringing in the material effects of animals’ wilful behaviour. In Harriet Ritvo, ‘Animal planet’, Environmental History, vol. 9, no. 2 (2004), pp. 204-220 this veteran animal historian provides a sweeping overview of human-animal relationships through time, and in Harriet Ritvo, ‘Going Forth and Multiplying: Animal Acclimatization and Invasion’, Environmental History, vol. 17, no. 2 (2012), pp. 404-414 she looks at the aspects of animals being relocated to new ecologies that were beyond the control of humans. And for a collection advocating a turn towards animals in the field of geography, see Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert eds., Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-animal Relations (London, 2000). Geography continues to lead the way with much of the theoretical innovation in the field of animal history, see for an overview Henry Buller, ‘Animal Geographies I’, ‘Animal Geographies II’, and ‘Animal Geographies III’, Human Geography (2013-15). Connecting animal studies with a critique of capitalism and modern biopower, Nicole Shukin, Animal Capital: Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times (Minneapolis, 2009) is a book full of fascinating and useful insights.
More recently historians have begun to consider the place of animals in imperial and colonial history, such as the engaging Timothy Barnard, Imperial Creatures: Humans and Other Animals in Colonial Singapore , 1819-1942 (Singapore, 2019) which covers all of the themes discussed below and the unusal but exciting collection Antionette Burton and Renisa Marwani (eds) Animalia: An Anti-Imperial Bestiary for Our Times (Durham, 2020) which goes alphabetically through different species’ entanglements with empire. Also my own book Jonathan Saha, Colonizing Animals: Interspecies Empire in Myanmar (Cambridge, 2022) that makes the case for an interspecies approach to the history imperialism that accounts for the role of capitalism and anticolonial nationalism, two forces often overlooked. But this scholarship is a late development. For an explanation of why animals have been awkward figures in postcolonial theory, and for how accusations of ‘being like an animal’ have been used to dehumanise colonised populations, take a look at Philip Armstrong, ‘The postcolonial animal’, Animals and Society, vol. 10, no. 4 (2002), pp. 413-419. More up-to-date and on top of recent writings, Aaron Skabelund, ‘Animals and imperialism: recent historiographical trends’, History Compass, vol. 11, no. 10 (2013), pp. 801-807 offers an insightful overview of the growing interest in animal history among historians of imperialism, and the state of the field.
For an innovative approach using the nonhuman to inform conceptions of empire see James Beattie, Edward Melilo and Emily O’Gorman, ‘Rethinking the British Empire through Eco-Cultural Networks: Materialist-Cultural Environmental History, Relational Connections ad Agency’, Environment and History, vol. 20, no. 4 (2014), pp. 561-575. Coming from the field of English literature, the introduction to Shefali Rajamannar, Reading the Animal in the Literature of the British Raj (New York, 2012) presents a useful introduction to the themes and concepts used in both postcolonialism and posthumanism. It also discusses the utility of thinking about ‘situated knowledges’. Examining the co-constitution of humans and non-humans Rohan Deb Roy, ‘Nonhuman Empires’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 35, no. 1 (2015), pp. 66-75 brings the interests of science studies together with the concerns of Subaltern Studies. A very thought-provoking piece, but be prepared for some unfamiliar terms! It introduces an excellent collection of essays that you might want to flick through. Another overview review essay Fa-Ti Fan, ‘Plants, germs, and animals: they want to be in history, too!’, Cross-Currents: East Asian History and Culture Review, vol. 3, no. 1 (2014), pp. 321-344 focuses on new work done on Japan and China that locates animal history within wider developments in the field. In the field of geography, Alice J. Hovorka, ‘Animal Geographies I: Globalizing and Decolonizing’, Progress in Human Geography, Online (2016), pp. 1-13 makes an excellent case for the global widening of the field and for postcolonial reflection in animal studies. A great anthropogical study, that is historically informed, which tackles (among a number of fascinating topics) the exclusivities anti- and post-colonial nationalisms–A subject that I think is still underserved by scholarship–is Radhika Govindarajan, Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in Indian’s Central Himalayas (Chicago, 2018).
For a nice overview of the most recent themes in animal history, see Joshua Sprecht, ‘Animal History after its Triumph: Unexpected Animals, Evolutionary Approaches, and the Animal Lens’, History Compass, vol. 14, no. 7 (2016), pp. 326-336, which identifies emerging interest in evolutionary approaches (whilst noting the danger of biological determinism) and makes the case for moving beyond debates about “agency”.
Hunting and Conservation
The history of the two have been shown to be intertwined in the colonial context by a number of scholars. The best starting point on this topic is John Mackenzie, The Empire of Nature: hunting, conservation and British imperialism (Manchester, 1988) which traces hunting practices (and the rise of regulations) across the British Empire and from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. A thorough and full on attack on both the methodology and findings of John Mackenzie’s work on the imperial hunt, Lance Van Sittert, ‘Bringing in the Wild: The Commodification of Wild Animals in the Cape Colony/Province c. 1850-1950’, Journal of African History, vol. 46, no. 2 (2005), pp. 269-91 argues that wild animals were increasingly commodified during the colonial period and that histories based on elite imperial sources are unhelpful. Another study based on Africa is Edward Steinhart, Black Poachers, White Hunters: A Social History of Hunting in Colonial Kenya (Athenes, 2006) that situates colonial hunting in the pre-colonial history of African hunting practices, in transcultural exchanges between White and Black forms hunting, and in the emergence of conservationist policies. In addition, some articles by William Beinart examine hunting in the continent, such as William Beinart, ‘Empire, Hunting and Ecological Change in Southern and Central Africa’, Past & Present, no. 128 (1990), pp. 162-186 that explores it within an essay concerning environmental history.
There is also plenty of work done on colonial Asia, which was also covered by Mackenzie’s book. For a theoretically-sophisticated yet clearly-written consideration of how hunting was part of colonial and pre-colonial governance in India read Anand S. Pandian, ‘Predatory care: the imperial hunt in Mughal and British India’, Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 14, no. 1 (2001), pp. 79-107. Building on this study is Shufqat Hussain, ‘Forms of predation: tiger and markhor hunting in colonial governance’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 46, no. 5 (2012), pp. 1212–1238 who draws out how colonial governance and hunting changed according to perceptions of geography and civilisation. Ezra D. Rashkow, ‘Making subaltern shikaris: histories of the hunted in colonial central India’, South Asian History and Culture, vol. 5, no. 3 (2014), pp. 292-313 builds on these insights even further by exploring the impact of imperial hunting on the colonised populations employed in the hunts. In addition, Vijaya Ramadas Mandala, ‘The Raj and the Paradoxes of Wildlife Conservation: British Attitudes and Expediencies’, Historical Journal, vol. 58, no. 1 (2015), pp. 75-110 draws attention to the pragmatic economic reasons for the slaughter of some animals and the conservation of others. A similar set of issues are explored in Natasha Nongbri, ‘Elephant Hunting in Late 19th Century North-East India: Mechanisms of Control, Contestation and Local Reactions’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 38, no. 30 (2003), pp. 3188-3199 that focuses on the Dacca Kheddah (elephant capturing operations), locating them within the tensions between elephant protection, property rights and shooting practices. In a similar vein, Varun Sharma and Neera Agnimitra, ‘Making and Unmaking the Endangered in India (1880-Present): Understanding Animal-Criminal Process’, Conservation and Society, vol. 13, no. 1 (2015), pp. 105-118 explores how certain animals come to be considered ‘endangered’ through a close engagement with Foucault’s writings. They tie this together through ideas of criminality. Also focused on India, Julia E Hughes, Animal Kingdoms: Hunting, the Environment, and Power in Indian Princely States (New Delhi, 2013) focuses on the distinctive princely culture of hunting. Here artilce on tigeris also excellent on courtly cultures, Julie E. Hughes, “Royal Tigers and Ruling Princes: Wilderness and Wildlife Management in the Indian princely states”, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 49, no. 4 (2015), pp. 1210–1260.
For some analysis of imperial and indigenous hunting techniques and their impact on large cat populations in the Malay world, read Peter Boomgaard, Frontiers of Fear: Tigers and People in the Malay World, 1600-1950 (New Haven; London, 2001), pp. 107-144. It offers an interesting contrast to the material on India. Sticking with tigers in the Malay world, but focusing on the rise and demise of tigers as a threat to the people and livestock of Singapore is Timothy P. Barnard and Mark Emmanuel, ‘Tigers of Singapore’, Timothy P. Barnard eds., Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore (Singapore, 2014), pp. 55-80, providing a wider ecological and cultural context. Also on tigers in Singapore, Lilian Chee, ‘Under the Billiard Table: Animality, Anecdote and the Tiger’s Subversive Significance at the Raffles Hotel’, Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, vol. 32 (2011), pp. 350-364 takes an apocryphal story of a tiger shot in Raffles Hotel, to explore the ambivalent meanings of an exemplary masculine imperial space: the billiard room. Another article on tigers in Singapore, taking a different angle, is Miles Alexander Powell, ‘People in Peril, Environments at Risk: Coolies, Tigers, and Colonial Singapore’s Ecology of Poverty’, Environment and History, vol. 22, no. 3 (2016), pp. 455-482 that examines the ways in which the poverty labourers in Singapore and the killing of tigers were entangled. Staying in Island Southeast Asia, Robert Cribb, ‘Conservation in Colonial Indonesia’, Interventions, vol. 9, no. 1 (2007), pp. 49-61, looks at how bird hunting in the Dutch East Indies stimulated conservation laws, which were bound up with imperial ideologies. A very useful anthropological study also focussed on big cats, although going beyond hunting and conservation, is Annu Jalais, Forest of Tigers: People, Politics and Environment in the Sundarbans (Dehli, 2010).
Several studies have attempted to uncover the affective aspects of hunting. Drawing on the methods of historical geographers, James Lorimer and Sarah Whitmore, ‘After the “king of beasts”: Samuel Baker and the embodied historical geographies of elephant hunting in mid-nineteenth-century Ceylon’, Journal of Historical Geography, vol. 35 (2009), pp. 668-689, considers the embodied experiences of imperial hunters and the ambivalence of their feelings towards their game. The conflicting emotions of hunting are also explored in Nigel Rothfels, ‘Killing Elephants: Pathos and Prestige in the Nineteenth Century’, pp. 53-64 and Heather Schell, ‘Tiger Tales’, in Deborah Deneholz Morse and Martin A. Danahay eds.Victorian Animal Dreams: Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture (Farnham, 2007), pp. 229-248 that concern British hunters’ feelings towards elephants and tigers in the nineteenth century respectively. Examining similar themes but looking across imperial adventure fiction more widely (not just hunting narratives) is John Miller, Empire and the Animal Body: Violence, Identity and Ecology in Victorian Adventure Fiction (London, 2014) which draws an interesting contrast between representations of visual and physical encounters.
For some works that situate performances of White Imperial masculinity through hunting within these hunters’ interactions and practices with Indians, see: Shufqat Hussain, ‘Sports-hunting, Fairness and Colonial Identity: Collaboration and Subversion in the Northwestern Frontier Region of the British Indian Empire’, Conservation and Society, vol. 8, no. 2 (2010), pp. 112-126, that brings in non-British European hunters; and, following similar themes, Joseph Sramek, ‘“Face Him Like a Briton”: Tiger Hunting, Imperialism, and British Masculinity in Colonial India, 1800-1875’, Victorian Studies, vol. 48, no. 4 (2006), pp. 659-680 which might provoke some thoughts on how ideas of hunting and ideas of racial difference change (and perhaps harden?) during the nineteenth century. These studies are nicely set into relief by the following work on huntswomen, Vijaya Ramadas Mandala, “British Huntswomen in Colonial India: Imperialism and Gender Hierarchies, 1890-1921”, International Review of Environmental History, vol. 6, no. 1 (2020), pp. 71-99.
There are also now some recent studies that take account of the religious aspects of hunting in the colonial era. Ying-Kit Chan, “Manly Civilization in China: Harry R. Caldwell, the ‘Blue Tiger’, and the American Museum of Natural History”, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 53, no. 5 (2019), pp. 1381-1414, explores Christianity and the place of hunting in evangelical pursuits in China. And religious belief is assessed as a factor in the resistance of colonized people against hunting, Ezra Rashkow, “Resistance to Hunting in Pre-independence India: Religious Environmentalism, Ecological Nationalism or Cultural Conservation?”, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 49, no. 2 (2015), pp. 270-301.
Epidemics and Epizootics
Animals are implicitly present in the spread of diseases globally, and there is a huge amount of literature on the history of epidemics: for a classic study see William H McNeill, Plagues and People (New York, 1976) that makes the case for the importance of epidemics in human history. Also worth reading is Myron Echenberg, ‘Pestis Redux: The Initial Years of the Third Bubonic Plague Pandemic, 1894-1901’, Journal of World History, vol. 13, no. 2 (2002), pp. 429-449 that examines how modern imperialism contributed to the spread of diseased fleas and rodents, and to thus to the lop-sided (since it effected colonised countries far worse than the West) global spread of plague. This outbreak had a particular impact on British India, and has been studied by David Arnold, Ira Klein and Prashant Kidambi. Some recent studies on epidemics and epizootics in Britain that might be interesting and useful for context are Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys, Mad Dogs and Englishmen: Rabies in Britain, 1830-2000 (Basingstoke, 2007) and Abigail Woods, ‘The Construction of an Animal Plague: Foot and Mouth Disease in Nineteenth–century Britain’, Social History of Medicine, vol. 17, no. 1 (2004), pp. 23-39—both address the rise in veterinary knowledge and state apparatus, the titles are good indicator of the content of these works.
There are fewer works on disease in empire (I have separated studies on veterinary medicine into a separate group) that focus on the animals in particular. Lance Van Sittert, ‘Class and Canicide in Little Bess: The 1893 Port Elizabeth Rabies Epidemic’, South African Journal, vol. 48, no.1 (2003), pp. 207-234 shows how an outbreak of rabies subverted elitist, colonial hierarchies. For an empirical assessment of the impact of colonialism on the horse populations of Southeast Asia read William Clarence-Smith, ‘Diseases of Equids in Southeast Asia, c. 1800-c. 1945: Apocalypse or Progress?’, in Karen Brown and Daniel Gilfoyle eds. Healing the Herds: Disease, Livestock Economies, and the Globalization of Veterinary Medicine (Ohio, 2010), pp. 129-145. Other essays in this collection are mentioned in the veterinary medicine section of this bibliography. In contrast, Rohan Deb Roy, ‘Quinine, mosquitoes and empire: reassembling malaria in British India, 1890–1910’, South Asian History and Culture, vol. 4, no. 1 (2013), pp. 65-86 takes a more theoretically-engaging constructivist approach to both disease and insects. The problems of animals in colonial sanitation schemes are examined in Michael G Vann, ‘Of Rats, Rice, and Race: The Great Hanoi Rat Massacre, an Episode in French Colonial History’, French Colonial History, vol. 4, no. 1 (2003), pp. 191-203. Looking at human-cattle interactions, William Beinart, ‘Transhumance, Animal Diseases and Environment in the Cape, South Africa’, South African Historical Journal, vol. 58, no. 1 (2007), pp. 17-41 looks at the demise of pastoralism in Southern Africa in the context of epizootics and state interventions to control their spread.
A good starting point is Harriet Ritvo, Animal Estate: the English & other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Cambridge, MA, 1987) which uses some nineteenth-century natural histories to explore the changing meanings of animals. It touches on empire, but its focus is England. There are some recent works that deal more explicitly with imperial and colonial contexts. Meena Radhakrishna, ‘Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolutionary Science and Colonial Ethnography’, Indian Historical Review, vol. 33, no. 1 (2006), pp. 1-23 shows how the theory of evolution became entangled with how British colonisers saw Indian society. Showing more sophistication in its approach is Sujit Sivasundarum, ‘Imperial Transgressions: The Animal and Human in the Idea of Race’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 35, no. 1 (2015), pp. 156-172 that locates imperial ideals of race and animality in a range of different forms of knowledge—phrenology, natural history, comparative anatomy, and nationalist rhetoric.
There are also some good studies of the Malay world and natural historical conceptions o the human. Christina Skott, ‘Linnaeus and the Troglodyte: Early Encounters with the Malay World and Natural Histories of Man’, Indonesia and the Malay World, vol. 42, no. 123 (2014), pp. 141-169, that explores the basis of the early modern natural historian Carl Linnaeus’s belief in other species of humans existing in Southeast Asia. And Jeremy Vetter, ‘Wallace’s Other Line: Human Biogeography and Field Practice in the Eastern Colonial Tropics’, Journal of the History of Biology, vol. 39, no. 1 (2006), pp. 89-123, examines early nineteenth century ideas of race and species in the context of the practices of natural history. Sticking in the islands of Southeast Asia, Robert Cribb, Helen Gilbert and Helen Tiffin, Wild Man From Borneo: A Cultural History of the Orangutan (Honolulu, 2014) reveals the complex ways in which the orangutan was entangled with notions of human difference – both sustaining and undermining them. Chapters 1-3 offer insights from the seventeenth to the early-nineteen century. For more on Orangutan, stranding history of science and wider animal history concerns, see Shira Shmuely, “Alfred Wallace’s Baby Orangutan: Game, Pet, Specimen”, The Journal of the History of Biology (Advance Access, 2020), np.
Showing some of the wider intellectual context for understanding animals, including evolutionary theory, see Kathlene Kete, ‘The Domestication of Empire: Human-Animal Relations at the Intersection of Civilization, Evolution, and Acclimatization in the Nineteenth Century’, in Dorothee Brantz ed. A Cultural History of Animals in the Age of Empire (Oxford, 2007), pp. 74-94, although it is a little Eurocentric in its scope. The other essays in this collection may be helpful too. An entertaining article that links imperial entomology with wider colonial anxieties is Charlotte Sleigh, ‘Empire of the Ants: H.G. Wells and Tropical Entomology’, Science as Culture, vol. 10, no. 1 (2001), pp. 33-71 which links scientific and literary writings to excellent effect. Some work has managed to connect imperial centres and colonial peripheries. For the material and personal ties that helped enable natural historical study see Christine Brandon-Jones, ‘Edward Blyth, Charles Darwin, and the Animal Trade in Nineteenth-Century India and Britain’, Journal of the History of Biology, vol. 30, no. 2 (1997), pp. 145-178 that offers a glimpse into the shady world of animal trading. Sujit Sivasundaram, ‘Trading Knowledge: The East India Company’s Elephants in India and Britain’, Historical Journal, vol. 48, no. 1 (2005), pp. 27-63 examines the networks and translations between Asian and British understandings of the elephant in the late-early modern period.
And let us not forget birds. Through a detailed and engaging discussion of two white ornithologists in early-twentieth century colonial Africa Nancy Jacobs, ‘The Intimate Politics of Ornithology in Colonial Africa’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 48, no. 2 (2006), pp. 564-603 argues that race played an important, but not simple, role in the practices of this science. Aspects of her argument are challenged in this slightly theoretical essay, in which Kirsten Greer, ‘Geopolitics and the Avian Imperial Archive: The Zoogeography of Region-Making in the Nineteenth-Century British Mediterranean’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 103, no. 6 (2013), pp. 1317-1331 she uncovers the role collecting birds played in developing military and territorial knowledge of the imperial Mediterranean. Saurabh Mishra, “History Writing, Anthropomorphism, and Birdwatching in Colonial India”, History Compass, vol. 15, no. 8 (2017), np. isn’t strictly about natural history as such, but does offer some creative insights into how imperial writings on birds might be used by historians.
There are also some good articles, that may initially seem esoteric, that are interesting. Did you know that Winston Churchill attempted to get a platypus sent to him from Australia in the middle of the Second World War? Well, you will if you read Natalie Lawrence, ‘The Prime Minister and the platypus: a paradox goes to war’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, vol. 41, no. 3 (2012), pp. 290-297. Situating Rudyard Kipling’s stories within Darwin’s theory of evolution and studies of feral children Jane Hotchkiss, ‘The Jungle of Eden: Kipling, Wolf Boys, and the Colonial Imagination’, Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 29, no. 2 (2001), pp. 435–449, you’ll see the Jungle Book in an entirely new light. Whilst this article only touches on imperialism, Londa Schiebinger, ‘Why Mammals are Called Mammals: Gender Politics in Eighteenth-Century Natural History’, American Historical Review, vol. 98, no. 2 (1993), 382-411, demonstrates convincingly the importance of gender history to understanding the development of scientific ideas. A really fascinating article. Along with that of Donna Haraway, Schiebinger’s work shows the contribution that gender history has had to histories of science.
Breeding and Livestock
An edited collection by two authors who have written extensively about horse breeding in colonial contexts is Greg Bankoff and Sandra Swart, Breeds of Empire: The ‘Invention’ of the Horse in Southeast Asia and Southern Africa 1500-1950 (Copenhagen, 2007). The introduction is very helpful for laying out the state of the field and the conceptual issues surrounding what constitutes ‘breed’. There are a number of useful essays set in Southeast Asia in here. In as similar vein Greg Bankoff, ‘A question of breeding: zootechny and colonial attitudes toward the tropical environment in the late nineteenth-century Philippines’, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 60, no. 2 (2001), pp. 413-437 explores what imperial attitudes to horses tell us about the ways in which the Spanish saw and interacted with the populations and environment of the Philippines. Also on horses is Saurabh Mishra, ‘The Economics of Reproduction: Horse-breeding in early colonial India, 1790–1840’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 46, no. 5 (2012), pp. 1116-1144 which locates the East India Company’s attempts at breeding horses within wider economic policies. It is also touches on the development of veterinary medicine.
On ‘man’s best friend’, the dog, an excellent overview of the history of canines in South Africa, from the earliest introduction through to the post-Apartheid era, is Sandra Swart and Lance Van Sittert, ‘Canis familiaris: a dog history of South Africa’, South African Historical Journal, vol. 48, no. 1 (2003), pp. 138-173, that offers some interesting insights on breeding. On a more global scale, the emergence of the German Shepard as the dog of choice for imperialists is examined in Aaron Skabelund, ‘Breeding Racism: The Imperial Battlefields of the “German” Shepherd Dog’, Society and Animals, vol. 16, no. 4 (2008), pp. 354-71 that demonstrates the historical links between ‘race’ and ‘breed’. It is nicely complimented by Aaron Skabelund, ‘Can the Subaltern Bark? Imperialism, Civilization, and Canine Cultures in Nineteenth-Century Japan’, in Gregory M. Pflugfelder and Brett L. Walker, eds., JAPANimals: History and Culture in Japan’s Animal Life (Ann Arbor: 2005), pp. 195-244 that uncovers why particular dogs were lauded and others despised by imperial powers. His work is good for drawing on Japan but situating it within a wider imperial context. Sticking with dogs, Sarah Cheang, ‘Women, Pets, and Imperialism: The British Pekingese Dog and Nostalgia for Old China’, Journal of British Studies, vol. 45, no. 2 (2006), pp. 359-387, explores the imperial roots of the Pekingese breed and how this was tied in with performances of a more assertive middle-class femininity. (For a longer history of the changing meaning of dogs in China, through its semantic and graphic presence in ancient dictionaries, see the fascinating Claire Huot, ‘The Dog-Eared Dictionary: Human-Animal Alliance in Chinese Civilization’, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 74, no. 3 (2015), pp. 589-613.) And, although it is not really about breeding, James Boyce, ‘Canine Revolution: The Social and Environmental Impact of the Introduction of the Dog to Tasmania’, Environmental History, vol. 11, no. 1 (2006), pp. 102-129 shows the dramatic impact that the introduction of dogs into a new ecology and society can have. In the context of imperial war, if not explicitly about empire itself, Philip Howell, ‘The Dog Fancy at War: Breeds, Breeding, and Britishness, 1914-1918’, Animals and Society, vol. 21, no. 6 (2013), pp. 546-567 looks at how anti-German sentiments influenced dog breeding in the UK and, more broadly, how breeding animals fed into national identity.
Looking at the evolution of the frozen meat industry feeding the British market in the nineteenth century, Rebecca J. H. Woods, ‘From Colonial Animal to Imperial Edible: Building an Empire of Sheep in New Zealand, ca. 1880–1900’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 35, no. 1 (2015), pp. 117-136, explores how new technology, the environment, and cultural tastes led to breeding of sheep for meat in New Zealand designed especially for global transportation in freezers. Looking at the history of pastoralists in colonial northern India, Needladri Bhattacharya, ‘Pastoralists in a Colonial World’, in David Arnold and Ramachandra Guha, eds., Nature, Culture, Imperialism (Delhi, 1995), pp. 49-85, although not focused on the cattle themselves, gives an excellent analysis of changing pastoral practices and locates them within colonial discourses of ‘nature’. Offering a complimentary study of the importance of cattle to agriculturalists, Saurabh Mishra, ‘Cattle, Dearth and the Colonial State: Famines and Livestock in Colonial India, 1896-1900’, Journal of Social History, vol. 46, no. 4 (2013), pp. 989-1012 analyses the profound impact of the starvation of livestock during famines, as well as unpacking colonial and peasant responses. Working on French Indochina, Shaun Kingsley Malarney, ‘Dangerous Meats in Colonial Hà Nội’, Journal of Vietnamese Studies, vol. 13, no. 1 (2018), pp. 80-120, examines colonial attempts to control the meat supply in the city, and the wider cultural and social issues at play. Not strictly about livestock, but dealing also with animals, famine and state responses to it in colonial India, Sajal Nag, ‘Bamboo, Rats and Famines: Famine Relief and Perceptions of British Paternalism in the Mizo Hills’ examines the famines caused by bamboo-consuming rats in the uplands of northeast colonial India, and how they inspired imperial measures for dealing with the problem.
Some of the essays in Peter Boomgaard and David Henley, eds., Smallholders and Stockbreeders: Histories of Foodcrop and Livestock Farming in Southeast Asia (Lieden, 2004) focus on animal husbandry during periods of colonial rule. As the introduction points out, the central concern of the volume is on agricultural history, and as a result the direct engagements with the historiographic concerns of animal history are few. On cattle: Peter Boomgaard, ‘The Age of the Buffalo and the Dawn of the Cattle Era in Indonesia, 1500-1850’, pp. 257-282, looks at the different uses and social significance of buffalo and cattle, and traces the rise of cattle and the history of imported cattle from India. The following essay, Martine Barwegen, ‘Browsing Lifestock History: Large Ruminants and the Environment in Java, 1850-2000’, pp. 283-305, picks up from the end of Boomgaard’s time period and discusses the comparative fates of different breeds, and offers an explanation for this. And D.F. Doeppers, ‘Beef Consumption and Regional Cattle Husbandry Systems in the Philippines, 1850-1940’, pp. 307-324 uncovers the rise in tastes for meat and the local attempts to import and breed cattle to meet this new demand under Spanish and then American rule. Sticking with cattle, but considering milk production Jonathan Saha, ‘Milk to Mandalay: Dairy Consumption, Animal History and the Political Geography of Colonial Burma’, Journal of Historical Geography, 54 (2016), pp. 1-12 explores how diary herds were entangled with the making of imperial borders in Southern Asia. Bringing these concerns around breeding into an analysis of the cow protection movement in colonial India, Cassie Adcock, “‘Preserving and Improving the Breeds’: Cow Protection’s Animal-Husbandry Connection”, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, vol. 42, no. 6 (2019), pp. 1141-1155 makes an important intervention.
Also focusing on the history of breeding for meat, but taking a different angle, Sam White, ‘From Globalized Pig Breeds to Capitalist Pigs: A Study in Animal Cultures and Evolutionary History’, Environmental History, vol. 16, no. 1 (2011), pp. 94-120, places the emergence of crossbred Asian and European pigs in a very long historical timeframe and on a planetary scale. Whilst not explicitly dealing much with colonialism, it is an implicit context for some elements of the article. Shifting our focus to smaller animals (because insects matter too!) Edward D. Melillo, ‘Global Entomologies: Insects, Empires, and the ‘Synthetic Age’ in World History’, Past & Present, no. 223 (2014), pp. 233-270 explores the persistence of materials produced through human farming of insects, the global rise of shellac, silk and cochineal, and the peripheral position of European Empires in relation to this knowledge—it’s a fascinating article, we some interesting wider relevance for environmental history. On a smaller scale, James W Frey, ‘Prickly Pears and Pagodas: The East India Company’s Failure to Establish a Cochineal Industry in Early Colonial India’, Historian, vol. 74, no. 2 (2012), pp. 241-266 examines why it was so difficult to for East India Company officials and imperial botanists to farm the beetles used to make this famous and valuable red dye, reflecting on early imperial environmental science in the process.
Eradication and Control
To start you off, Nancy Jacobs, ‘The great Bophuthatswana donkey massacre: discourse on the ass and the politics of class and grass’, American Historical Review, vol. 106, no. 2 (2001), pp. 485-507 is a ground-breaking and erudite essay on why the policy of destroying donkeys has become remembered as one of the most traumatic experiences of apartheid rule for the people of Bophuthatswana. Also in South Africa, but looking at an earlier period and over a longer duration, William Beinart, ‘The night of the jackal: sheep, pastures and predators in the Cape’, Past & Present, vol. 158 (1998), pp. 172-206 looks at the campaigns to eradicate the jackal. This article and Jacobs’s article on the donkeys will also be useful to people thinking about the ecological and environmental impacts of colonial rule.
For the history of similar campaigns in colonial India it is definitely worth reading Mahesh Rangarajan, ‘The Raj and the natural world: The war against “dangerous beasts” in colonial India’, Studies in History, vol. 14, no. 2 (1998), pp. 265-299. For a study looking at the campaigns to eradicate predatory big cats, and their effectiveness, in the Malay world, read Peter Boomgaard, Frontiers of Fear: Tigers and People in the Malay World, 1600-1950 (New Haven; London, 2001), pp. 87-106. For some insights into the ambiguous place of dogs in the imperial order of things, see Kirsten Mackenzie, ‘Dogs and the public sphere: the ordering of social space in early nineteenth-century Cape Town’, South African Historical Journal, vol. 48 (2003), pp. 235-251. A similar story, although set in a different time and place, is Jesse S Palsetia, ‘Mad dogs and Parsis: the Bombay dog riots of 1832’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, vol. 11, no. 1 (2001), pp. 13–30 that traces the history of a colonial elite through a rare case of their opposing the government in India. A strikingly similar tale of dog eradication can be found for Shanghai, in Ying-kit Chan, “The Great Dog Massacre in Late Qing China: Debates, Perceptions, and Phobia in the Shanghai International Settlement”, Frontiers of History in China, vol. 10, no. 4 (2015), pp. 645-667.
Considering why crocodiles were so despised by the white population in South Africa, Simon Pooley, ‘No Tears for the Crocodiles: Representations of Nile Crocodiles, and the Extermination Furore in Zululand, South Africa, from 1856-8’, ed. William Beinart, Karen Middleton and Simon Pooley, Wild Things: Nature and the Social Imagination (Cambridge, 2013), pp. 142-162, explores the history to a particular anti-croc frenzy. And sticking with crocodiles, Jan van der Ploeg, Merlijn van Weerd, and Gerard A Persoon, ‘A Cultural History of Crocodiles in the Philippines: Towards a New Peace Pact?’, Environment and History, vol. 17, no. 2 (2011), 229-264 which looks at more ambivalent relations with crocodiles, that may offer ways of preserving the populations into the future. Sticking with cold-blooded animals, Lloyd Price, ‘Animals, Governance and Ecology: Managing the Menace of Venomous Snakes in Colonial India’, Cultural and Social History, vol. 14, no. 2 (2017), pp. 201-217, shows how attempts to eradicate the threat from poisonous snakes led to a recognition of ecological limits to state policy.
Although this is not about deliberate eradication, Ryan Tucker Jones, ‘A “Havock Made among Them”: Animals, Empire, and Extinction in the Russian North Pacific, 1741—1810’, Environmental History, vol. 16, no. 4 (2011), pp. 585-609 shows how colonial experiences brought about an awareness among European naturalists that entire species could become extinct.
More about a lack of control, perhaps, but Rohan Deb Roy, “White Ants, Empire, and Entomo-Politics in South Asia”, The Historical Journal, vol. 63, no. 2 (2020), pp. 411-436 makes for a compelling study of how insects could resist colonial interventions and shape imperial formations. Less prominantly about animals, but Arnab Dey, Tea Environments and Plantation Culture: Imperial Disarray in Eastern India (Cambridge, 2018), [esp. pp. 77-96] also highlights the impact of insects.
Cruelty and Care
This is a subject that has attracted a little less scholarship for colonial contexts, but an excellent starting point is Brett L. Shaddle, ‘Cruelty and Empathy, Animals and Race, in Colonial Kenya’, Journal of Social History, vol. 45, no. 4 (2012), pp. 1097-1116, which examines how the colonised were labelled as cruel in comparison to the British in East Africa. And sticking with East Africa, Alison K. Shutt, ‘The Settlers’ Cattle Complex: The Etiquette of Culling Cattle in Colonial Zimbabwe, 1938’, Journal of African History, vol. 43, no. 2 (2002), pp. 263-286, unpicks how fractures in the white community played out in relation to concerns about the state’s policies of destocking ‘native’ cattle populations. Shifting to Southern Africa, Sandra Swart, ‘“It Is As Bad To Be a Black Man’s Animal As It Is To Be a Black Man”: The Politics of Species in Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa’, Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 40, no. 4 (2014), pp. 689-705 examines the use of sympathy with animals in the writing of an important early twentieth-century Black South African author. Empathy for pack animals is explored thoughtful in context of the second world war in Myanmar in Thomas Webb, Chris Pearson, Penny Summerfield, and Mark Riley, “More-Than-Human Emotional Communities: British Soldiers and Mules in Second World War Burma”, Cultural and Social History, vol. 17, no. 2 (2020), pp. 245-262.
There are also a number of studies that focus on Asia. Uncovering the history of animal experimentation in colonial India is Pratik Chakrabarti, ‘Beasts of Burden: Animals and Laboratory Research in Colonial India’, History of Science, vol. 48, no. 2 (2010), pp. 125-152 which explores the relative absence of anti-vivisectionist protest in the colony. Arguing for greater attention to be paid to material and emotional connections to animals, Jonathan Saha, ‘Among the Beasts of Burma: Animals and the Politics of Colonial Sensibilities, c.1840-1950’, Journal of Social History, vol. 48, no. 4 (2015), pp. 933-955 shows how ideas of racial difference governed who could interact with what animal. Shuk-Wah Poon, ‘Dogs and British colonialism: the contested ban on eating dogs in colonial Hong Kong’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vol. 42, no. 2 (2014), pp. 308-328 explores a sharp divide between the sensibilities of colonisers and colonised in Hong Kong. In a similar vein, the perceived problem of animal slaughter among Muslim populations in British Malaya is unpacked in Nurfadzilah Yahaya, ‘The Question of Animal Slaughter in the British Straits Settlements During The Early Twentieth Century’, Indonesia and the Malay World (2015), pp. 1-18 to draw out tensions between religious belief and colonial law. At the Western edges of Asia, Alma Igra, “Mandate of Compassion: Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Palestine, 1919-1939”, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vol. 47, no. 4 (2019), pp. 773-799, shows how concerns over animal cruelty were part of bringing new territories into the British Empire.
Animals were important in Gandhi’s political philosophy, as shown in Aishwary Kumar, ‘Satyagraha and the place of the animal: Gandhi’s distinctions’, Social History, vol. 39, no. 3 (2014), pp. 359-381. Although this is a bit of a tough article don’t be put off by the unfamiliar terms from Gandhi’s thought and see if you can get at why animals are important. It might be useful to pair this article up with a read of Leela Gandhi, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought, Fin-de-Siècle Radicalism, and the Politics of Friendship (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), Chapter: ‘Meat: A Short Cultural History of Animal Welfare at the Fin-de-Siècle’, which is also a tough read, but gives more context, as well as social and intellectual history, to Gandhi’s vegetarianism. Julietta Singh, “Gandhi’s Animal Experiments”, in Kaori Nagai et al. (eds), Cosmopolitan Animals (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), pp. 120-132 makes a similar intervention, and is a easier to get into. Less animal focussed, but providing a gender analysis to these issues, Parama Roy, “Meat–Eating, Masculinity, and Renunciation in India: A Gandhian Grammar of Diet”, Gender & History, vol. 14, no. 1 (2002), pp. 62-91. For more on meat-eating in colonial India, see Rosinka Chaudhuri, ‘”Young India: A Bengal Eclogue”: Or Meat-eating Race, and Reform in a Colonial Poem’, Interventions, vol. 2, no. 3 (2000): 424-441 which explores its place in reform (and satires of reform).
Moving to the Japanese empire, and the colony of Korea, Joseph Seeley and Aaron Skabelund, ‘Tigers—Real and Imagined—in Korea’s Physical and Cultural Landscape’, Environmental History, vol. 20, no. 3 (2015), pp. 475-503 traced the history of the shifting meanings of tigers (it also deals with their extermination through hunting), and their symbolic importance. And Mary Elizabeth Leighton and Lisa Surridge, ‘The Empire Bites Back: The Racialized Crocodile of the Nineteenth Century’, in Deborah Deneholz Morse and Martin A. Danahay eds.Victorian Animal Dreams: Representations of Animals in Victorian Literature and Culture (Farnham, 2007), pp. 249-270 that explores the meanings of crocodiles in Victorian England, and how their portrayal overlaps with that of colonized peoples. The other essays in this book will be useful for understanding Victorian cultural meanings of animals.
There are plenty of wider readings that might help you to think through these issues. Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness (Chicago, 2003) is a brilliant short text on the significance of human-animal companionship with a sophisticated engagement with philosophy and history. In addition, Erica Fudge, Pets (Stockfield, 2008) is another short title that thinks about human affectionate relationships with domesticated animals. Also Hilda Kean, Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain since 1800 (London: 2000) might provide you with some background and context for shifts in metropolitan social mores.
Veterinary and Human Medicine
Exploring the animal traces in Western bio-medical practices (beyond veterninary medicine)forward and pointing the way for future research Angela Cassidy, Rachel Mason Dentinger, Kathryn Schoefert and Abigail Woods, ‘Animal Roles and Traces in the History of Medicine, c.1880-1980’, BJHS: Themes (First View, 2017), pp. 1-23 is a really exciting intervention – it would be great to build on this withstudies into non-Western animal traces in medical thoight and practices. Most work based in Asia for the modern peiod looks at Western veterinary medicine and how it was implemented. In Saurabh Mishra, ‘Beasts, murrains and the British Raj: Reassessing colonial medicine in India from the veterinary perspective’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol. 85 (2011), pp. 587-619 veterinary practice is located within wider colonial policies concerning health and disease in nineteenth-century India. And you might want to go on to check out his recent monograph on the subject too, Saurabh Mishra, Beastly Encounters of the Raj: Livelihoods, Livestock and Veterinary Health in North India, 1790-1920 (Manchester, 2015). Looking over the border, Jonathan Saha, ‘Colonizing Elephants: Animal Agency, Undead Capital and Imperial Science in British Burma’, BJHS Themes (First View, 2017), 1-21 examines the emergence of scientific ideas of animals using the case of working elephants and an anthrax vaccine.Putting British India into a comparative perspective Diana K Davis, ‘Brutes, beasts and empire: veterinary medicine and environmental policy in French North Africa and British India’, Journal of Historical Geography, vol. 34, no. 2 (2008), pp. 242-267 asks why it is that British vets had so little influence on environmental policy in India compared to French vets in North Africa, finding answers in the different ecologies, training and state policies. And for a perspective that takes account of how the colonised engaged with veterinary knowledge there is Samiparna Samanta, ‘Dealing with Disease: Epizootics, Veterinarians and Public Health in Colonial Bengal, 1850-1920’, Poonam Bala ed., Medicine and colonialism: historical perspectives in India and South Africa (London, 2014), pp. 61-74. A really enjoyable excavation of an odd episode in imperial veterninary history, see Projit Bihari Mukherji, “Cat and Mouse: Animal Technologies, Trans-imperial Networks and Public Health from Below, British India, c. 1907–1918”, Social History of Medicine, vol. 31, no. 3 (2018), pp. 510-532. For a bit of context, David Arnold, Colonizing the Body: State Medicine and Epidemic Disease in Nineteenth-Century India (California, 1994) is a classic text for getting to grips with the history of colonial medicine in colonial India—it might be useful, even though he does not discuss animal bodies. A similarly almost-canonical text for studies of colonial medicine is Megan Vaughan, Curing their Ills: Colonial Power and African Illness (Stanford, 1991) which includes a chapter about White doctors’ interactions with the local wildlife.
There is a great deal of good work published by Karen Brown and Daniel Gilfoyle on veterinary medicine in Southern Africa. See, for example, Karen Brown, ‘Tropical Medicine and Animal Diseases: Onderstepoort and the Development of Veterinary Science in South Africa 1908–1950’, Journal of Southern African Studies, vol. 31, no. 3 (2005), pp. 513-529, which demonstrates the importance of South Africa’s research centre into veterinary sciences. And Daniel Gilfoyle, ‘Anthrax in South Africa: Economics, Experiment and the Mass Vaccination of Animals, c. 1910-1945’, Medical History, vol. 50, no. 4 (2006), pp. 465-490 that examines the history of why the colony took the lead in research into anthrax. Setting the emergence of veterinary medicine within a global historical framework, the essays they have edited in Karen Brown and Daniel Gilfoyle, Healing the Herds: Disease, Livestock Economies, and the Globalization of Veterinary Medicine (Athens, 2010), are very useful. There are a number of them that focus on colonialism in Asia—Martine Barwegen, ‘For Better or Worse? The Impact of the Veterinary Service on the Development of the Agricultural Society in Java (Indonesia) in the Nineteenth Century’, pp. 92-107 explores the history of the civil veterinary service in the Dutch East Indies and assesses what, if any, impact it had on arresting a cattle plague (probably rinderpest) in 1878; Daniel F. Doeppers, ‘Fighting Rinderpest in the Philippines, 1886-1941’, pp. 108-128 examines the attempts to combat the same disease in the colonial Philippines, taking this through to more successful (eventually) veterinary interventions in the mid-twentieth century; Robert John Perrins, ‘Holding Water in Bamboo Buckets: Agricultural Science, Livestock Breeding, and Veterinary Medicine in Colonial Manchuria’, pp. 195-214 uncovers the place of veterinary medicine in Imperial Japan’s ‘scientific colonialism’ at the borders of its empire.
A good place to start thinking about the cultural meaning of animals on display is John Berger’s essay ‘Why Look at Animals’ in John Berger, About Looking (London, 1980), that argues that the rise of looking at animals in captivity, or as pets or cartoons, is a symptom of the animals’ disappearance from our daily lives in capitalist modernity. Also from the 1980s, and an early example of animal history that pre-empts much of the later literature, is Donna Haraway, ‘Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936’, Social Text, vol. 11 (1984), pp. 20-64, that uses the Africa Hall of the Natural History Museum in New York to uncover the place of animals within the monopoly capitalist culture of early twentieth-century America. It’s a brilliant piece of writing. Also looking at taxidermy, and outlining the various stages involved in killing, transporting and ‘reanimating’ animals, Karen Jones, ‘The Rhinoceros and the Chatham Railway: Taxidermy and the Production of Animal Presence in the “Great Indoors”‘, History, vol. 101, no. 3 (2016), pp. 710-735.
A ground breaking cultural history of the zoo, Nigel Rothfels, Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo (Baltimore, 2002) uncovers the cultural and material histories of how animals (and some people) were displayed. Looking at animals on display beyond the zoo alone, is Helen Cowie, Exhibiting Animals in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Empathy, Education, Entertainment (Basingstoke, 2014) her chapter on the capturing of animals in Asia and Africa is particularly important in outlining the dramatic impact of display on animal populations in colonies. Moving to Asia, for a thoughtful and engaging book on Tokyo’s zoo and its relationships with Japanese imperialism, read Ian Jared Miller, The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at Tokyo Imperial Zoo (Berkley, 2013)—chapter four ‘The Great Zoo Massacre’ is particularly affecting. Moving to Japan’s colonial possessions, and taking account of anticolonial nationalism, Joseph Seeley and Aaron Skabelund, “‘Bite, Bite against the Iron Cage’: The Ambivalent Dreamscape of Zoos in Colonial Seoul and Taipei”, Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 79, no. 2 (2020), pp. 429-454 is a fabulous piece. Linking Burma and Britain, Sarah Amato, ‘The white elephant in London: an episode of trickery, racism and advertising’, Journal of Social History, vol. 43, no. 1 (2009), pp. 31-66 explains why skin colour mattered for an elephant and advertisers in the late-nineteenth century. Another single species study of the zoo is James R. Hall, ‘Encountering Snakes in Early Victorian London: The First Reptile House at the Zoological Gardens’, History of Science, vol. 55, no. 3 (2015), pp. 338-361 that looks at the overlapping reasons for looking at snakes as well as responses, including imperial stereotypes, entertainment and scientific curiosity.
On Singapore as an entrepot for the wild animal trade, many of which went on to zoos, is Fiona L.P. Tan, ‘The Beastly Business of Regulating the Wildlife Trade in Colonial Singapore’, Timothy P. Barnard eds., Nature Contained: Environmental Histories of Singapore (Singapore, 2014), pp. 145-178. The domestic impact of the imperialism on Britain is explored in Alix Hientzmann, ‘E is for elephant: jungle animals in late nineteenth-century British picture books’, Environmental History, vol. 19, no. 3 (2014), pp. 553-563 by looking at the rise of elephants, tigers and zebras in children’s alphabet books—a more mundane but perhaps more pervasive form of animal display. Taking an inter-colonial framework and looking at the lion taming acts of circuses that visited Australia in the late-nineteenth century, Gillian Arrighi, ‘Political Animals: Engagements with Imperial and Gender Discourses in Late-Colonial Australian Circuses’, Theatre Journal, vol. 64, no. 4 (2008), pp. 609-629, demonstrates the ways in which these performances spoke to wider concerns about colonial gender norms and imperial patriotism. Sticking with circuses and moving to India, spanning the colonial and postcolonial periods, is the excellent Poyyaprath Rayaroth Nisha, “Ban and Benevolence: Circus, animals and Indian state”, The Indian Economic & Social History Review, vol. 54, no. 2 (2017), pp. 239-266.
The Anthropocene is a concept that has emerged from earth sciences. It is used by some scientists and historians to denote the current geological epoch, instead of the Holocene. According to these scholars, humans are now the determining factor shaping the planet’s climate, ecologies and geo-chemical make-up. To get a sense of this argument, have a look at Will Steffen, John R McNeil and Paul Crutzen, ‘The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature’, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, vol. 36, no. 8 (2007), pp. 614-621, for an overview of the idea, as well as Will Steffen, John R McNeil, Jacques Grineveld and Paul Crutzen, ‘The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, vol. 369, no. 1938 (2011), pp. 842-867, that gives you more on the historical argument.
This is an area of substantial engagement between historians and scientists. It is also having an impact on the types of questions and concerns that historians address. For a provocative statement on this, see one time subaltern studies historians Dipesh Chakrabarty’s recent essays on the imperatives of climate change history, see Dipseh Chakrabarty, ‘The Climate of History: Four Theses’, Critical Inquiry, vol. 35, no. 2 (2009), pp. 197-222 where he attempts to move away from post-colonial concerns to address the problem of ‘species agency’. It is a tough article, but worth reading to think about the changing political projects at stake in his work. You might also want to look at the articles placing Asia within debate about the Anthropocene in The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 73, no. 4 (2014), pp. 941-1007 that consider what studies of Asia might add to the history of, debates over and theorisation of the Anthropocene, drawing from different disciplines. And for a critical look at the political work that official and universalistic discourses of ‘climate change’ and the ‘Anthropocene’ can do, see Nayanika Mathur, ‘ “It’s a Conspiracy and Climate Change”: Of Beastly Encounters and Cervine Disappearances in Himalayan India’, HAU: The Journal of Ethnograhic Theory, vol. 5, no. 1 (2015), pp. 87-111. Some these concerns have been expanded in her marvellous new book, Crooked Cats: Beastly Encounters in the Anthropocene (Chicago, 2021) that uses the tales of big cats to explore the layers of meaning and competiting explanations for tiger attacks as way to unpick otherwise sweeping narratives of ecological crises.