Podcast

A couple of weeks ago I was interviewed by Luke Corbin for his “Myanmar Musings” podcast. We talked about some of my recent work on the history of animals, particularly elephants and cattle. Luke is a PhD candidate at the Australian National University researching the history and anthropology of beer in Myanmar. During his trip…

What’s the Difference?

I’ve recently been thinking about “difference”. While animal historians often write about the changing understandings of the difference between humans and animals over time, I don’t think that they have fully unpacked what they mean by “difference” itself. Was the difference between human and nonhuman animal species and same as the difference between colonizer and…

Tragedy and Thūriya

Last week I managed to squeeze in a couple of days at the British Library to complete some research. I was studying the fall of Yangon to the Japanese Empire in 1942. I ordered the relevant microfilm copies of Thūriya, a Burmese nationalist newspaper, but I received a mislabeled 42nd anniversary edition from 1953. The…

When Gorillas Smoke Cigars…

A few months ago I wrote a short blog post about Thakin Kodaw Hmaing’s Myauk Htika, a book about monkeys and apes published in Myanmar in 1923. Thakin Kodaw Hmaing was a Burmese nationalist and an influential early twentieth-century literary figure. His Htikas are texts—often about animals—written in the form of religious commentaries. They brought Burmese-Buddhist…

Darwin’s Empire of Emotions

Recently I’ve found myself interested in Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. This is in no small part because of its charming illustrations of cats and dogs in a variety of emotional states. In the book, Darwin closely describes the bodily signs of emotion shown in different species to…

Theories of Evolution in Colonial Burma

Historians of natural history have long explored the emergence of evolutionary theory. Most of the studies that I have read on the subject tend to discuss its development and influence within an Imperial framework. The colonized world appears in these histories as a site in which key figures, such as Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles…

Counting the Dead

It is near impossible to give accurate figures for the numbers of wild animals killed by imperial hunters in colonial Burma. It is harder still to tell what effect that hunting might have had on the wildlife populations. It is, however, possible to get a sense of how many animals were killed by some individual…

Hunting Humans

The British did not only hunt animals in Burma, they hunted humans too. At times of widespread rebellion, colonial counter-insurgency strategies involved identifying, tracking and killing particular rebels. Although the ends were different, the methods were similar. So were their narratives about these different chases. Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Ballad of Boh Da Thone’, about…

Missing Links in Myanmar

When I was going through some Burmese colonial-era magazines on my research trip earlier this year, I came across the following article discussing some models that were displayed at the Field Museum in Chicago. I think that they were probably part of the ‘Hall of Prehistoric Man’ which opened in 1933. The article was published…

The Dreaded Comparison

Over the weekend I attended the annual conference of the British Animal Studies Network to present a paper on human-animal interactions in colonial Burma. It was a fantastic conference, and the papers will soon be available for you to listen to on-line. When I got back home, I had a quick search through the British Pathe…

Why Colonisers Look at Animals

Next week, on 7 April, the Animal History Museum will begin exhibiting an on-line collection of images and short essays on the theme of ‘Animals and Empire’ (I have an exhibit in there about working elephants in colonial Burma). Reflecting on the exhibition got me thinking about the art critic John Berger’s essay ‘Why Look at Animals?’ In…

Shape-shifters in Colonial Burma

I’m currently reading a novel by a British judge called Arthur Edgar titled The Hatanee: A Tale of Burman Superstition published in 1906. According to Edgar, the Hatanee is a terrifying, shape-shifting, half-tiger-half-human creature that hunts people when they are alone in the jungle. The novel was inspired by the apparently ‘real life’ murder of…