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…

Traps and Tangles

Last week I attended a brilliant conference on the topic of “Traps” over at the Centre for Research into the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities in Cambridge. The purpose of the discussion was to consider the utility of thinking with traps to understand the technological mediations of human-animal relations, across different places and times. The…

Animal Actors in Theatres of War

Total war was a more-than-human phenomenon and during the Second World War a variety of animals were mobilized and killed. The Burma theatre was no exception. I was recently reminded of this when a couple of friends shared a reprint of an article celebrating the war work done by carrier pigeons. The article details the…

Javanese Piggy-Banks

I’ve just come back from a holiday to Amsterdam, which was great. But even though I was not supposed to be working, I couldn’t stop myself from seeking out animal histories. Visiting the Rijksmuseum I learned about early-modern Indonesian piggy-banks, having stumbled across this one. It would probably have been used to store Chinese cooper…

Colonial Slaughterhouse Rules

A couple of weeks ago I had an article published by the Journal of Historical Geography on the history of dairy cattle in colonial Burma. The article explored how oxen were bound up with colonial geographies; in this case through the state’s policing of the movement of Indian milch cattle into British Burma. Something that…

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…

Anti-Colonial Primatology

Animal histories often attempt to de-centre the human in their narratives. They show instead how the actions of non-human animals have made possible and frustrated human activities. They also show how definitions of what it means to be human have been premised on contrasts with the animal other. In both of these arguments, animal historians…

Monkey Business in Yangon Zoo

I’ve spent most of today trying to read a gossip column from 1928 that appeared in the Burmese language newspaper Thuriya. The column was a regular feature in the paper which ran from at least as early as 1915 and was written by a man going by the pseudonym ‘Town Mouse’. In this particular episode,…

Learning Burmese, Colonial Style

I have recently begun working my way through a book designed to teach English speakers written Burmese. But unlike the textbooks that I have previously used, this one is a little dated. It was published in 1894 and was written by Richard Fleming St. Andrew St. John, an English Orientalist, colonial official and translator of…

Decolonizing the Classroom

Last week I attended the “Postcolonial Education” symposium, co-organized by Leeds Beckett University, the University of Leeds and the Northern Postcolonial Network. The day brought together early career researchers, poets, community educators and established academics to think critically about teaching, learning and schooling. It was exactly what I needed as the end of term nears:…

The Elephant in the Strike

The memoirs of British employees in the timber industry and the archives of British-owned timber firms both document  some small-scale and seemingly-spontaneous strikes that occurred in the Burmese jungle during the 1920s. Elephant drivers—called oozies in Burmese—refused to work unless their conditions and pay improved. But striking in a jungle timber camp was not an…

Exploding Mosquito Larvae and Jumping Lab Rats

I’m often tempted, when researching the history of science, to focus on experiments that seem, today, to have been odd or unusual. This is not a helpful approach. It can belittle the scientific understandings of the past and reinforce the simplistic story that ideas inexorably improve over time. Despite this, recently I found myself giving…