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…

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…

Teak and Photography in Colonial Burma

A few days ago the great grandson of Percival Marshall—an employee of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation during the interwar years—made contact with me to share his relavtive’s photographs of working in colonial Burma’s forests. The images document the labour that went into felling trees and transporting them across the country for export. They show…

A Beastly Bibliography

Over the last year I’ve been compiling an annotated bibliography. Originally I maintained it as a memory aid for my writing and in September I reworked it for my students. I’m now sharing it on this blog for anyone interested in the colonial history of animals: ‘Beastly Bibliography’. Recommendations for additional readings are encouraged! Hope…

Getting the Wasp into the Cyanide Jar

In his address to the Bombay Natural History Society in 1893, Colonel Charles Thomas Bingham regaled the audience with stories from his recent trip along the Myawaddy Road that ran between British Burma and Siam collecting rare specimens of bird, butterfly and wasp. Using cliched imagery, he wrote of the region’s “unbroken forests” where “no…

The Call of the Tame

In the introduction to their edited collection, the  geographers Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert drew a distinction between ‘animal spaces’ and ‘beastly places’.  Animal spaces were the material and imaginative geographies that nonhuman species were put by humans. So, dogs belong in a kennel, monkeys in a zoo or the wild, goldfish in a goldfish…

Paratextual Pachyderms

This week I read Sainthill Eardley-Wilmot’s 1912 book The Life of an Elephant. It was one of a number of fictional accounts of animal lives written in the early-twentieth century that attempted to capture what it might be like to be another species. Eardley-Wilmot himself had previously published a popular volume on the life of…

Where’s the Cow in the Condensed Milk?

I’ve recently been doing some research into milk production in colonial Burma and going through the pages of the anti-colonial daily newspaper Thuriya for the interwar years. Despite trying to encourage domestic production of commodities through articulating a form of economic nationalism, the paper was mostly full of adverts for foreign products—including both powdered and…

Smells Like Empire (to an Elephant)

About a year ago I wrote a blog post about British colonizers’ sense of smell in Burma. I suggested that what they thought smelt bad revealed their prejudices about Burmese society. In addition, I wrote that they believed their nasal experience of Empire led them to have more refined sensibilities than their compatriots back home….

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…

Animals in the Asylum

Last week I presented a paper as part of a panel on the history of lunatic asylums at the European Association of Southeast Asian Studies’ annual conference, hosted by the University of Vienna. It was the first time that I had returned to the subject of colonial psychiatry since I completed the research for my…