Seminar Series

Seminars are held monthly at 7pm UK Time.

Please sign up using the links below. Joining information will be sent shortly before the event.

Term Two

17th May 2023

Owning the Wild: The Amateur Menagerie Club and exotic animal ownership, 1912-1929.
Elle Larsson, University of Westminster 

In 2021 Born Free revealed that nearly 4,000 wild animals were being kept privately, and legally, under license in Great Britain under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976. This included some 320 wild cats, 274 primates and 158 crocodilians, representing a 59% increase in exotic animals held under this license between 2000 and 2020. In 2022, the Pet Food Manufacturers Association estimated a further 11 million reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, birds, and fish were being kept as exotic pets in homes across Britain. The origins of this modern ‘exotic pet-demic’ lie largely with the influence of social media, but the phenomenon is not new. While today Facebook and Youtube fuel the international trade in exotic animals, early twentieth century Britain had the Amateur Menagerie Club, an organisation established in 1912 with the core objective of encouraging the keeping of wild animals, birds and reptiles by private individuals.

The Club’s membership drew together naturalists, zoo-proprietors, and the wives of colonial officials, all united by the shared goal of promoting exotic animal ownership. This paper will explore the contents of the Club’s Annual Yearbooks to reveal its membership, activities, and published advice and recommendations on caring for a variety of wild animals. In doing so it will answer three questions. Firstly, what were the Club’s objectives and how were these influenced by wider cultural and scientific trends which heightened the demand for the supply and ownership of wild animals in the period? Secondly, who were its members and why did they join the Club? And lastly, what did the Club do in practice, and did it achieve its objectives? Finally, the paper will reflect on the extent to which the attitudes and activities of the Amateur Menagerie Club have laid the foundations for the modern ‘exotic pet-demic’.

Past Seminars

Term One

12th October 2022

Sick as a Dog: Dogs, Dog Lovers and Canine Healthcare in Eighteenth-Century Britain
Stephanie Howard-Smith, King’s College London

The eighteenth century saw a marked shift in the dog’s status in British society. Britain’s elite spent their money on dog portraits, dog clothing and dog furniture for their companion animals and built and maintained kennels for their sporting dogs. Intimate relationships with individual dogs and kindness to animals were increasingly celebrated. Despite this, current scholarship does not acknowledge the long tradition of canine healthcare provided by irregular animal healers prior to the late nineteenth century, attributing this supposed lack of care to the dog’s apparently limited economic value.

This paper explores Georgian Britain’s thriving medical marketplace for canine healthcare. Who sought specialist care for their dogs, and under what circumstances? Who did owners turn to when their dog was sick? By considering a wealth of archival evidence, we can reconstruct the experiences of sick dogs, their owners and the men (and women) who cared for them.

To dogs’ detractors, specialist care underscored the disparity between society’s most vulnerable humans and the wealthy’s most privileged pets and challenged the species hierarchy. Dog healers offered an opportunity to debate the resources and attention dogs deserved. In eighteenth-century literature, the dog doctor emerges as a mercenary quack out to exploit female owners’ over-affection for their dogs. Dog owners’ diaries and letters, however, offer an emotional counterpoint to such stereotypes.

9th November 2022

ECR/PhD Showcase
Carcasses at the River: Diseased Animals and Water Infrastructure in Colonial South Africa, 1850-1901
Kristin Brig-Ortiz, Johns Hopkins University

In 1897, Durban’s sanitary inspector traced a local typhoid outbreak to a household tank infected by diseased pigeon faeces. He asked the city to allow residents to shoot pigeons on sight. No matter that someone owned them—the birds constituted a threat when they flew between roofs, defecating on slates over which rain water ran into underground tanks. Drawing on local correspondence, sanitary and engineering reports, and newspaper articles, I explore how nineteenth-century South African port city residents viewed diseased and dying animals as they interacted with the cities’ already-limited water supplies. As urban non-human animals and insects moved around the city, municipal residents and administrators often blamed them for contaminating wells, drains, reservoirs, and other water infrastructure. While scholars have examined how animals regularly passed disease to humans and between each other, few have looked closely at how utility systems facilitated this transfer. Non-human animals are deeply intertwined with urban environments, to the degree that they use and affect the same utility infrastructures humans do. This presentation thus questions what “contact” between animals and humans means, complicating how we consider this often binary issue. Durban and Port Elizabeth particularly suffered from this problem, given how their water supply and management infrastructures remained uneven and unreliable into the twentieth century for lack of funding and regulation. By unpacking how dead and dying animals impacted the use and management of clean and waste water, the paper seeks to understand one of a multitude of challenges to the sanitary measures British settlers forced on the colonized landscape, especially as it appeared in nineteenth-century coastal South Africa.

Shared Journeys, Entangled Health: Across the Adriatic with the Fifteenth-century Mantuan-Ottoman Horse Trade
Marissa Smit, Harvard University

In 1540, Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, owned over 300 brood mares whose breeds – barbare, turche, zanette – pointed to origins across the Mediterranean, from North Africa and the Ottoman Empire to Iberia. Despite an extensive bibliography on horse breeding in Renaissance Mantua, however, an emphasis on cultural history has left many practical aspects of these activities under-explored. 

Accordingly, in this paper, I focus on Mantuan agents’ efforts to buy horses from the Ottoman Empire during the formative reign of Federico’s father, Marquis Francesco II. During the 1490s, they made nearly annual trips across the Adriatic, offering military equipment and intelligence about Italian affairs in exchange for access to Constantinople’s markets and an exemption from the export ban on fine stock. Once obtained however, conducting these animals back to Italy in good health required expert facilitators, official goodwill, and luck. Despite political and logistical barriers, Ottoman Europe and Northern Italy were knit together by networks of bodies in motion, which facilitated not only commerce, war, and diplomacy, but also the transmission of disease. Humans contended with malaria, pox, and plague on the road, while horses too suffered not only from fatigue, but also epizootics.

Through correspondence from the Archivio di Stato in Mantua, I explore how humans and horses navigated these journeys, as well as the intersections between health (human and equine), climate and the environment, gesturing toward the place of these exchanges in the larger trans-Adriatic trade in horses during the Ottoman expansion into Southeast Europe.

An Animal History of Socialist Mongolia
Kenneth Linden, Indiana University

In 1924, the Mongolian People’s Republic officially became the second socialist country in the world. But it was not until 1956 that leaders undertook a successful campaign to collectivize the herding economy, one of the key steps in building a socialist state. By 1960, nearly all of the herders in the country herded collectively owned livestock as part of the centrally planned economy.

In this talk I will explore how I used animal and environmental historical methods to analyze archival materials of materials produced by the socialist government, from the debates in the central committee to the notes of meetings of brigades in the collective, as well as oral histories, literature, socialist era handbooks, and art. I found that leaders aimed to transform how Mongolians interacted with animals and the environment through collectivization. I show that Mongolian leaders aimed to revolutionize herding through four main methods: the professionalization of collective herding, introduction of modern global veterinary science, policies and infrastructure to address climatic disasters, and an extermination campaign against wolves. These campaigns consisted of a mix of new modern methods and technology along with traditional strategies. This transformation was seen by leaders as a foundational step to build a modern socialist state.

Although Mongolians are often represented as ahistorical wandering nomads, the socialist period shows that herding in Mongolia changed over time, and socialist Mongolians were heavily integrated in the worldwide trends in human-animal interactions. Examining the history of Mongolia through the lens of animals allows a greater understanding of both Mongolia and how humans interact with non-human animals in the rest of the world.

14th December 2022

Winter Social

Details are to be confirmed but likely to be a crossover of Hangouts, Book Club and Quiz Night.

Term Two

18th January 2023

Introducing ‘The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife’
Lee Raye, Open University. Twitter: @LeafyHistory

This presentation will describe a project to map the wildlife of Britain and Ireland between 1519-1772 CE. We will look at the state of nature in the early modern period using some very exciting examples (The Wolf, Sea Eagle, Burbot, Killer Whale and many more!) We will also look at how natural history sources from the time-period created data, and how authors resisted using ambiguous place names before the Grid Reference system and ambiguous species names before Linnaean nomenclature. Finally, the talk will demonstrate how historical references can be mapped using free GIS software, and demonstrate one way in which statistical analysis can be used to distinguish between species which are unrecorded in an area because they have been overlooked, and species which are unrecorded because they are actually absent.

15th February 2023

“English” Animals in an Irish Landscape? Colonized/Colonizing Livestock in Medieval and Early Modern Ireland
Vicky McAlister, Towson University

Going through the Ormond estate rentals in the National Library of Ireland, I came across an early 17th century account from a James Neales. Neales appeared to work as an estate manager for the earls of Ormond and in his accounts he recorded information valuable to any environmental or economic historian, such as how much it cost to repair a gate. What was especially fascinating though were his references to the “English Cattle” and the “Irish Cattle” on the estate. Writing my current book, The Insular Globe: Animals and Colonizing Landscapes, Ireland c.700-1700, enabled a deeper dive into the contexts of importing cattle from England into a place where contemporary accounts complained of too many cows. I argue that cattle were being used as a colonized animal, whereby Tudor and Stuart government hoped to “civilize” Gaelic Ireland through importing them from England. There are a number of examples of animals being drawn into political and economic discourse from pre-modern Ireland. Sheep are associated with Anglo-Norman settlement following their 1169 conquest, used as proof of the imposition of manorial agriculture and engagement with pan-European industry and trade. Meanwhile, pigs and goats remain elusive in the historical and archaeological records, yet had much to potentially contribute to pre-modern society. This paper will discuss the colonized/colonizing role of livestock in pre-modern Ireland and suggest some ways that these centuries-old relationships have influenced farming practices in Ireland today.

22nd March 2023

Victims and diplomats: European efforts to save migratory white storks, animal representations, and images of expertise in postwar ornithology

Simone Schleper, Maastricht University

This paper discusses two approaches to save migratory European white stork populations from extinction that emerged after 1980. Despite the shared objective to devise transnational, science-based conservation measures, the two approaches’ geographical focus was radically different. Despite the shared objective to devise new, transnational, and science-based conservation measures to save the ‘true migrants’, the two approaches’ geographical focus was radically different. Projects by the World Wildlife Fund and the International Council for Bird Preservation focused firmly on the stork’s wintering areas on the African continent. Interventions by a second group of ornithologists at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell concentrated on the Middle East as a bottleneck in the storks’ annual movement. Based on archival research, interviews and correspondence with involved ornithologists, the paper examines representations of storks and their movement as an important lens for investigating the professional politics of ecology and conservation. It shows that representations of white storks, the birds’ ecology, and derived conservation hotspots became part of the boundary work used by European ornithologist in the creation of changing scientific and institutional identities. By analyzing two representations of migratory storks in approaches to science-based stork conservation that commenced in the 1980s, I demonstrate a shift in the personae of the European ornithologist from authoritative expert to scientific diplomat. By placing these two representations in longer research traditions and expert cultures, this paper, moreover, contributes to a comprehensive scientific history of European and particularly German, ornithology, so far less developed for the twentieth century.

12th April 2023

ECR/PhD Showcase
Where the Wild Dogs are.
The choreography of human – wild dog relations in South Africa 
Rosa Deen, University of Kent

This research tries to explain the various, current day, ‘biocultural entanglements’ between people and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), in South Africa. For this endangered species, the social carrying capacity is of more importance to its survival than the ecological one. With their large home-ranges, wild dogs are particularly interesting subjects to follow in their movements, as they routinely cross a patchwork of physical and cultural boundaries, provoking varying conclusions as to ‘where they belong’, as especially depredation on goats and cows at the borders of nature reserves can lead to situations of conflict. Impacts of depredation often conceal a diversity of underlying issues, especially in South Africa, where the spatial ordering is mostly a consequence of the Apartheid regime. Key to wild dog conservation is an acknowledgement of how the relation between nature reserves and the communities living alongside the reserves (from which they were long excluded) is a generational story. Each human-wild dog interaction occurs in a historical, social and cultural context and carries meanings with it derived from past interactions. By the use of in-depth interviews and archival research, this interdisciplinairy study analyses human-wild dog interactions across four different study locations in the provinces KwaZulu Natal and Limpopo, South Africa.  

Bronze Age animal mobilities at the fen-edge, Lincolnshire, UK
David Osborne, University of Nottingham

In my research investigating mobility from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in Lincolnshire and the Fens, the movement of nonhuman animals as an element of their husbandry offers a way to explore the central part they played in the daily life and movement of their community. It has been suggested that narrow paths between ditches marking extensive field systems revealed by excavation at the fen-edge were ‘droveways’ for the movement of livestock, allowing them to be herded between the fields and potentially on to the Fenland saltmarshes during the summer. Using isotope analysis, remains of domestic taxa (cattle, sheep and pigs) from two sites are being compared, one site on the fen-edge in proximity to marine water, the other inland in a predominantly freshwater environment. Sequential dentine sampling of the fenland cattle and sheep molars is anticipated to show seasonal changes in marine sulphur due to summer saltmarsh grazing.

In a complementary analysis, the movement of animals along the droveways is explored using soil samples from transects across a Bronze Age field system at the fen-edge site. X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometry (XRF) provides data on the proportions of chemical elements in the soil, including those such as phosphorus that are characteristic of animal dung. It is hoped that the results will show elevated values where the sample transects cross a proposed droveway, possible evidence for the movement of animals along its route.

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