The Nation and its Threats

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted here, a longer gap than usual. Events on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border have created a fraught context for writing on the country’s past; it has become imperative for historical work to address the bleak humanitarian crisis facing the Rohingya. Returning to my research with the escalating exodus…

A Diarist on the Edge

At the start of the summer I visited the British Library to take a look at some Japanese propaganda leaflets that had been dropped over British Burma during Second World War. They accompanied the diary of John Biggs-Davison, who served as a Forward Liaison Officer on the Arakan front in 1943 (India Office Records Mss…

Seeing, Shooting, Saving, Seeing…

The preambles to colonial legislation designed to protect wildlife managed to be at once condemnatory and fatalistic. The blame was placed on the Burmese people for failing to recognize the value of wild animals. At the same time, the retreat of wildlife was presented as an inevitable consequence of modernity. So, as well as being…

Animal Actors in the “Burmese Tarzan”

Animal historians routinely describe animals as “actors”. This is to emphasize the way that nonhuman creatures can effect change through their own actions and behaviours. They’re not bystanders in history, but active participants. But what about when animals are literally actors. Like, in films. What can animals acting tell us about animals as “actors”? This…

Burmese Nationalism and the Dietary Habits of Peacocks and Crows

During my last visit to the British Library I found this cartoon strip in the Burmese nationalist newspaper Thūriya, published in 1939. The cartoon character speaking on the platform is a reoccurring one in the newspaper. He is a bit of a hapless individual. His candid, ill-advised manner of speaking often gets him into trouble….

Undead Capital

Earlier this week I was really pleased to have had an article published as part of a special issue on animal agency in the history of science. It came out in the journal BJHS: Themes, an open access journal related to the British Journal for the History of Science dedicated to addressing provocative themes. The…

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…

Gharry Drivers and Armoured Dog Coats

On my way back from a trip to London, I was able to get a couple of hours in the Newsroom of the British Library to take a look at some colonial-era newspapers. Scanning through the microfilm of the English-language daily The Times of Burma for the year 1905, I stumbled across an odd story….

Proliferating Elephants

One of the things that I was not sure of when helping to set up the recent Elephants and Empire exhibition at Myanmar Deitta gallery in Yangon, was the intended purpose of these photographs. Originally taken by staff of the Steel Brothers company documenting the teak industry, there were no accompanying written documents explaining what they…

Animals Against Whiteness

Apparently, some animals in Burma had a particular loathing for White people. According to the Fitz William Pollok and W. S. Thom’s 1900 guide to wild sports, buffaloes were especially ill-disposed to White skin. Informing would-be imperial hunters of the animal’s general ferocity, they warned that, ‘Even the tame cow, that will allow itself to…

Historical Pose-abilities of Colonial Photography

I’ve just got back from Yangon where I was helping to set up the “Elephants and Empire” exhibition currently running at the Myanmar Deitta photograph gallery. The exhibition shows historical photographs originally taken for Steel Brothers & Co. Ltd, a British firm that operated in the teak industry, and that are now held in the…

Exhibiting Elephants

On January 7 an exhibition, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, displaying historical photographs of the teak industry will open at the Myanmar Deitta gallery in Yangon. I am really excited about it. The photographs that will be shown have been generously made available by the London Metropolitan Archives. The originals were taken…