Summer Conference 2021

Animal History Group Summer Conference: Animal Archives

An Online Event

Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 July 2021.

13.00 – 18.00 BST (UTC+1)

Join us on Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 July for two afternoons of online animal history! We’ll have five panels of diverse papers on the theme of Animal archives, followed by a keynote lecture from Dr Rohan Deb Roy. 

Over the past year Animal History Group events have been wonderfully international and we hope our second online conference will continue that trend. Whilst an online event collapses the barrier of physical distance, however, it also unfortunately expounds the barrier of time zones! The programme is given in UK timings, but we hope that, wherever you’re based, there will be parts you’ll be able to join us for if not the whole event.

Delegate packs and meeting links will be sent directly to all registered attendees a few days before the event – book your place at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/animal-archives-ahg-conference-2021-tickets-155504370759
Registration opens 9am Monday 17th May 2021.

The registration fee for the conference this year is £5. As an independent organisation without an institutional affiliation the registration fee will help us secure the funds needed to meet our running costs (zoom and website licenses) for the 2021/2022 series of events. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Day One

13:00 – 14:30: Panel 1 – Animal Imprints

Fleas, Mosquitoes and Humans, Not to Forget Birds and Rats: The Multi-Species Entanglements of Malaria and the Plague in India, 1890-1910.
Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva, University of St Andrews and Jordan Goodman, University College London

Labour, Collaboration, Conflict, and Discovery: Finding Animals in the Royal Geographical Society Archives.
Dr Catherine Oliver, University of Cambridge and Wiley RGS Digital Archives Fellow

Assessing Animals in the Archives
Claudia Towne Hirtenfelder, Queen’s University

15:00 – 16:30: Panel 2 – Animal Intrusions

Exposed and Squished: The absence and presence of animals in astronomical archival collections  
Daniel Belteki, Royal Observatory, Greenwich. 

Intimate Encounters: Elephants in Tea Gardens of Assam
Sampurna Bordoloi, Shiv Nadar University

Vermin Writing: Rats in Nineteenth-century Maritime Documents
Kaori Nagai, University of Kent

17:00 – 18:00: Keynote

Decolonise Mosquitoes
Rohan Deb Roy, University of Reading

Day Two

13:00 – 14:30: Panel 3 – Animal Archives

Narrating Embodied Environmental Histories Through Indicator Archives
Diane Borden and Anna Guasco, University of Cambridge

An Osteobiography of Choppers the ‘PG Tips Chimp’
Blessing Chidimuro1, Sean Doherty2, Olivia Clara Davis2, David Cooper3, Giovanna Capponi4,  Virginia Thomas5

1 Department of Archaeology, University of Reading (UK), 2 Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter (UK), 3 Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland (UK), 4 Department of Department of Life Sciences, University of Roehampton (UK), 5 Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter (UK)

Go fish: Job Baster (1711-1775), the Goldfish and the Gronovius Fish Collection
Anna Marie Roos, University of Lincoln

14:45 – 16:15: Panel 4 – Animal Workers

‘So, I decided to specialise in pigs’: An Oral History of the Zootechnical and Rural Changes in Pig Farming in Brittany (1955-1995)
Clémence Gadenne-Rosfelder,  Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

Animal Keepers in Maoist China: The Labor, Knowledge, and Ideology of Care in More-Than-People’s Communes
Jongsik Christian Yi, Harvard University

Questions of touch in veterinary oral histories
Sue Bradley, Newcastle University

16:30 – 18:00: Panel 5 – Animal Celebrity

Dispatches from “Anthropoid Ellis Island”: Henry Trefflich’s Mid-Century Monkey Business
Barrie Blatchford, Columbia University

A Roaring Applause: The Reception of ‘Animal Stars’ in Ancient Roman Spectacles
Kathryn Murphy, Trinity College Dublin

Broadcast Beasts: animals in the BBC’s Radio Times
Max Long, University of Cambridge

Full Programme (with abstracts)

Day One

13:00 – 14:30: Panel 1 – Animal Imprints

Fleas, Mosquitoes and Humans, Not to Forget Birds and Rats: The Multi-Species Entanglements of Malaria and the Plague in India, 1890-1910.
Matheus Alves Duarte da Silva, University of St Andrews and Jordan Goodman, University College London

Tucked away in a 1905 report from India lies a tantalizing remark concerning an experiment on the nature of plague. Digging into that remark not only reveals the nature of that experiment but unexpected and previously undetected layers of historical entanglement: fleas and mosquitoes; birds and rats; epizootic and zoonotic disease; French, British and Indian researchers; malaria and plague. We will explore these layers, beginning in 1898, when Paul-Louis Simond, a Pasteur Institute-trained doctor working in Bombay, published his hypothesis that the rat flea was responsible for plague. At that same moment in Calcutta, Ronald Ross was reaching the conclusion that the mosquito was responsible for malaria. Simond had consulted with Indian and British doctors who knew of Ross’s work and were arguing that plague, too, was a vector-borne disease. Despite this support, Simond’s idea remained contested until 1907 when the Advisory Committee for the Investigation of Plague in India (ACIPI) publicly upheld Simond’s conclusions based on results from plague experimenters who used fleas to bite healthy and septicaemic rats drawing on Ross’s methods in which he used mosquitoes with healthy and infected birds to determine precisely the nature of malaria transmission. Our presentation will show how the traces of insects in the archives can open a new world of multi-species and multi-discipline entanglements.

Labour, Collaboration, Conflict, and Discovery: Finding Animals in the Royal Geographical Society Archives.
Dr Catherine Oliver, University of Cambridge and Wiley RGS Digital Archives Fellow

Outside of London Euston station is a statue of Captain Matthew Flinders, squatting on a map of Australia with compass in hand. Underneath Flinders’ left leg sits a cat ‘Trim, his close companion.’ Flinders was an English navigator who led the first circumnavigation to Australia, and his beloved cat Trim accompanied him on expeditions. This is not the only memorial of Trim, with a statue also erected in Flinders’ hometown of Dorington, and at Sydney’s Mitchell Library, Trim boasts his own statue erected in 1996 on a window ledge behind a statue of Flinders. Trim’s contributions to geographical exploration are publicly memorialised, but he is far from the only animal whose service has been employed in geographical exploration.

This paper will share my findings from the RGS archives, which understands animals as complex geographical and historical actors. Expeditions across the world relied on the labour of animals like dogs and horses but, as the archives reveal, these animals were more than workers, they were often included in geographical exploration as companions and collaborators. However, animals are not only featured as labourers and companions found in the archives; there is also a path of violence forged by geographical exploration. From seal chopping and hunting parties to stuffed animal trophies, the geographical archives are filled with animal conflict. Finally, with technological developments and changing geopolitical priorities, animals became important subjects of knowledge, and geographical exploration played a vital role in mapping species across the world.

Assessing Animals in the Archives
Claudia Towne Hirtenfelder, Queen’s University

In my work to understand how cows were removed from Kingston, Ontario  – a small city in which cows were once part but for whom cows form no part of their geographic or historical imagination – I have found the city assessments to be useful documents. City Assessments are tax documents that highlight how much money taxpayers need to pay for what, but they also have the potential to tell us a great deal about the spatial and social relations of animals in cities – or, at the very least, how different populations of animals were valued and what implications this had for their urban belonging. In this paper, I highlight some of what I am learning about multi-species urban relations in Kingston by analysing a hundred years (1838-1938) of the city’s assessment rolls. Lessons include how different animals were economically valued, how those valuations changed over time, how their spatial belonging altered both in how they were tabulated in the assessments themselves but also materially in the city. I hope to show how these tax documents, provide one fruitful way for understanding the historical and spatial subjugation of different urban animal populations.  

15:00 – 16:30: Panel 2 – Animal Intrusions

Exposed and Squished: The absence and presence of animals in astronomical archival collections.
Daniel Belteki, Royal Observatory, Greenwich. 

The astronomical glass plate photographs preserved at the Harvard College Observatory include two unique plates that depict more than just the night sky. One plate shows the outlines of a spider crawling through the stars, while another shows a praying mantis as part of the universe. Similar animal disturbances were recalled at the meetings of the Royal Astronomical Society, and were even satirised by Punch magazine. Using such examples from the history of astronomy, the paper examines two distinct types of relations between animals and astronomers, and how they were recorded in archival sources. The first is a relation of intrusion whereby animals interfered with astronomical research and even destroyed the products of astronomers. Such a relation showcases how documents, instruments, and even astronomers were under constant attack by non-human intruders. Such attacks prompted astronomers to develop techniques to keep animals away from instruments and observatories. The second relation is one of companionship. It shows how astronomers enjoyed the company of animals in their observatories during long observing hours. The lack of any mention of this affective labour in official archival records is contrasted with their presence in the personal recollections of the individuals. Finally, the paper examines how spiders appear as companions and intruders at the same time: regularly crawling into instruments, but also providing spider-threads for use in astronomical instruments.

Intimate and Encounters: Elephants in Tea Gardens of Assam
Sampurna Bordoloi, Shiv Nadar University

Human-Elephant relations in tea gardens (both as a physical and discursive space) of Assam has been primarily framed as one of conflict. Conservation practices frames these conflicts as the result of an ongoing loss of habitation spaces for elephants “in the wild”, with humans encroaching on these spaces due to an increasing demand for resources that are increasingly growing scarce; or of “rogue” elephants destroying crops and human habitats. This paper seeks to frame human-elephant encounters in tea gardens in ways that go beyond the singular and limited experience of conflict, by considering the integrated human and non-human landscape of nineteenth century Assam, when the British were still experimenting strategies of colonisation, and both tea gardens and the British empire were at its nascent and shaky stages in Assam. By considering how non-human labour in the form of elephants (in clearing forests, marking pathways, travel, recreation and hunt) were crucial in the establishment and solidification of the planter regime, the paper can be read as a critique of the post-colonial conservation discourse, which is embedded in the colonial framing of the nature-culture duality. Early planter memoirs reveal how elephants were often the first species the tea planters encountered after embarking in depots, to traverse a quasi-fluvial landscape where roads would abruptly cease to exist. The paper explores the complex tripartite relationship between elephants, mahouts and the colonial state as pre-colonial elephant-human relations were appropriated and experimented on to construct the ambiguous figure of the elephant, an animal that was neither seen as completely “wild” nor “domesticated.”

Vermin Writing: Rats in Nineteenth-century Maritime Documents
Kaori Nagai, University of Kent

Before the discovery of Yersinia pestis as the cause of the bubonic plague in 1894, and the identification of rats and their fleas as its vectors, rats were something of a ship’s institution. Though efforts had to be made to keep their number in check by ships’ cats and other means, they were tolerated as part of the shipborne life: it was considered impossible to get rid of them entirely. Despite their ubiquity, rats in ships were sparingly recorded in official documents, except when they were implicated in losses and damage. This makes it hard and time-consuming for researchers to find maritime rat-records. In this paper, I will explore the ways in which rats were represented in shipborne documents in the nineteenth century by looking at a range of maritime documents, such as logbooks, surveys of ships’ stores, insurance court cases, and ships’ magazines. If maritime documents, by omitting to record rats, swept them under the ship’s carpet, so to speak, these rat records mark the moments in which rats chew through that carpet to assert their membership in the ship’s crew.  

17:00 – 18:00: Keynote

Decolonise Mosquitoes
Rohan Deb Roy, University of Reading

Day Two

13:00 – 14:30: Panel 3 – Animal Archives

Narrating Embodied Environmental Histories Through Indicator Archives
Diane Borden and Anna Guasco, University of Cambridge

In this presentation, we explore several manifestations of the meaning of ‘animal archives’,  focusing on ecological research practices. Recent studies from ecology, animal physiology, and  related fields examine past animal lives and ecosystems through samples taken directly from  living animals or animal remains. These zoological ‘archives’ accumulate over time, like tree  rings or ice cores, allowing researchers to connect historical moments with corporeal effects.  From whale earwax, baleen, and narwhal tusks to bird feathers’ growth bars, these ‘archives’  record stress, pollution exposure, and movement histories, among other ecological markers of  change. They reveal the embodied pasts of individual animals while simultaneously offering  broader insights into histories of their species’ health, (socio-) ecological events, and ecosystem  conditions. Thus, we might think of these animals as indicator archives, akin to indicator  species, whereby they become both records and recorders of individual biographies and of  broader ecological histories. Our paper explores the idea of ‘indicator archives’ by evaluating  studies of whales and birds. 

Thinking about archives in this way raises questions — in particular, about what counts as an  ‘archive’, and who conducts the practice of archiving and archival research. These tensions in  turn raise questions about archival agency, neutrality and/or objectivity, multispecies  temporalities shaping archives, and the possibilities (and challenges) of interdisciplinary  approaches. Finally, we will consider how this kind of archival research might represent a  move away from or a continuation of broader entangled eco-social histories of collecting,  natural history, and scientific research. 

An Osteobiography of Choppers the ‘PG Tips Chimp’
Blessing Chidimuro1, Sean Doherty2, Olivia Clara Davis2, David Cooper3, Giovanna Capponi4,  Virginia Thomas5

1 Department of Archaeology, University of Reading (UK), 2 Department of Archaeology, University of Exeter (UK), 3 Department of Natural Sciences, National Museums Scotland (UK), 4 Department of Department of Life Sciences, University of Roehampton (UK), 5 Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter (UK)

There is expansive literature about the history of zoological gardens, and what these institutions represent in terms of human-animal relationships, however the stories of zoo animals themselves have rarely been told. Many zoos donated specimens of deceased animals to natural history museums (including those of Paris, London and Edinburgh) and these remains have the potential to reveal the lived experiences of zoo animals. The creation of osteobiographies is a well-established method for reconstructing life/death histories from human remains, but the approach is seldom applied to animals. Working collaboratively across multiple disciplines, we have combined detailed skeletal and biomolecular analyses with exploration of archival sources (including medical and social histories), to narrate the life of one particular ‘celebrity’ zoo animal, ‘Choppers’, a chimpanzee born in the 1960s in Sierra Leone, who featured in advertisements for the British brand of tea, PG Tips. This first osteobiographical analysis of a zoo animal provides a first step in the wider analysis of how chimpanzees have adapted to lives in captivity, including the impact of feeding on their development and health in comparison with wild chimpanzees. Choppers’ life story also provides a unique window into broader shifts in the interconnections of conservation, zoos, pet-keeping and animal rescue through the 20th century, and deeper insights into the intriguing, entertaining and unsettling social roles attributed to apes at human-animal boundaries.

Go fish: Job Baster (1711-1775), the Goldfish and the Gronovius Fish Collection
Anna Marie Roos, University of Lincoln

This talk analyses the work of the first person to breed goldfish on the Continent, Job Baster (1711-1775), and the circumstances of the survival of some of his dried goldfish specimens in the Gronovius Collection in the Natural History Museum; these are most likely the oldest goldfish dried specimens in Britain and perhaps in the West.  Much work has been done tracking the archival afterlives– posthumous fortunes of written scientific and medical archives in early modern Europe. It has been claimed that of early modern natural philosophers claimed all knowledge as their province, and theirs was a paper empire, but that only tells part of the story. There has also been attendant work on hortus siccus in botany, or dried specimens, for instance the Sloane Herbarium.  But we will argue that dried animal specimens mounted on paper, their preservation and their unearthed histories also serve as an index of the cultural position of scientific activity since the early modern period.  Exploring the posthumous animal archive also lets us consider the genealogies of ‘scientific’ influence and show us that ‘scientific’ activity, then, as now, is a collective endeavour in which scribes, archives and library keepers, editors, and naturalists had a stake.

14:45 – 16:15: Panel 4 – Animal Workers

‘So, I decided to specialise in pigs’: An Oral History of the Zootechnical and Rural Changes in Pig Farming in Brittany (1955-1995)
Clémence Gadenne-Rosfelder,  Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

I would like to submit a paper on the industrialization of pigs and pig farming in Brittany between 1955 and 1995. Brittany is the most interesting region in France to conduct research on this subject. In the 1960s, it undertook a major change in the way that pigs were bred, and today, accounts for 60% of the total production in France. It is possible to study this modernisation through the usual archives used in rural history, that of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Agricultural centres, and the Technical Institute of the Pig. However, these zootechnical and rural changes were first witnessed and acted upon by pig farmers themselves. The paper that I would like to submit is therefore mostly based on oral history interviews that I conducted between January and June of this year, with farmers between the age of 70 and 90, who lived to see the transformations in pig farming which started in the 1960s. Firstly, I would like to study what it meant to run and manage a pig farm after the 1960s, how the farmers progressively took part in the newly created pig cooperatives, and how their lifestyles were affected by the changes. Secondly, I would like to focus on the important question of pig farm buildings, and how farmers perceived their technical evolution. Lastly, I would like to study the changes in pig physiology itself, and how farmers adapted their farming techniques to the recommendations given by the Technical Institute of the Pig, with particular regard to pig feed and breed selection. 

Animal Keepers in Maoist China: The Labor, Knowledge, and Ideology of Care in More-Than-People’s Communes
Jongsik Christian Yi, Harvard University

This paper examines the animal keepers (siyangyuan), full-time workers who took care of livestock and draft animals in socialist agricultural collectives, or “People’s Communes,” and their relations to non-human actors in Maoist China (1949-1976). Based on numerous primary sources that contain the keepers’ own voices as well as the state’s and the Chinese Communist Party’s perspectives, I show that most animal keepers did not see their profession as desirable and respectable mainly due to the intensity and muckiness of the labor. To come to terms with the physical and emotional hardship of caring about animals, the animal keepers internalized the Maoist ideas that communal interests must be prioritized over private interests and that one can contribute to the revolution by taking good care of animals as “commune properties.” In this regard, I argue that Maoism functioned as a kind of multispecies ethical code and that complying with it was the key process by which the animal keepers became a decent Maoist subject. This paper also illuminates that in the process of closely working with pigs, donkeys, and cattle that were energetic, stubborn, ill, and dying, animal keepers came to obtain considerable knowledge of care and healing. I suggest that such knowledge could be conceptualized as the result of human-animal co-authorship. With all these vivid grassroots experiences and voices, this paper analyzes the subjectivation of human actors shaped by both Maoism and non-human animals’ physical presence as well as the different valuation of animals in “more-than-People’s communes.”

Questions of touch in veterinary oral histories
Sue Bradley, Newcastle University

‘One cannot touch’, says the historian Constance Classsen, ‘without being touched in return.’ Whatever the nature of the encounter, to recount the experience of handling animals is to bear witness to their existence in the most immediate sense. 

This research was inspired by an exchange in an oral history interview, now archived at the British Library, with Mary Brancker (1914-2010), one of the earliest women vets in Britain. It was Mary who drew my attention to hands, describing her own and directing me to observe those of her former colleagues. Touch, it turned out, lay at the heart of the veterinary human-animal relationship and served as marker for how that had changed.  

This paper draws on that conversation, and on subsequent interviews with veterinary surgeons working in Britain between the 1940s and the 1980s. Explicit accounts of touch are relatively rare in oral history, but veterinary narrators were expansive and lucid in describing how they used their hands for work. This, I suggest, owes something to their professional education, which gave words to sensations and encouraged students to develop animal-oriented sensory skills.

In oral history too, a sensory approach can put us in touch with more-than-human lives. But if that relies, as it must, on accounts related by humans – and the meanings of sensory impressions are always dependent on context – can we reach beyond them to imagine an animal’s point of view? What kind of questions or evidence might give us a clue? 

16:30 – 18:00: Panel 5 – Animal Celebrity

Dispatches from “Anthropoid Ellis Island”: Henry Trefflich’s Mid-Century Monkey Business
Barrie Blatchford, Columbia University

Appropriately enough for a man born in a zoo in Hamburg, Germany, in 1908, Henry Trefflich would go on to become America’s foremost animal dealer. Following in the footsteps of his animal-trading father, Trefflich dominated the US trade for nearly five decades after his 1928 immigration to the country. Based in a Manhattan shop now displaced by the World Trade Center Complex, Trefflich’s name soon became synonymous with the primates which were his specialty. Indeed, Trefflich’s prolific primate-peddling earned him the sobriquet the “Monkey King” from the press – his Manhattan store was also dubbed “Anthropoid Ellis Island.” At Trefflich’s death in 1978, the New York Times reported that he had imported an astonishing 1.5 million primates over the course of his career, most of which went to feed the ravenous appetite of the US medical research industry.

Despite the considerable size and media profile of Trefflich’s business, he has attracted little attention from historians. Piecing together his career from newspaper and radio archives, I use Trefflich’s business as a window into American attitudes toward exotic animal ownership – which he heartily endorsed, once proclaiming to want “a monkey in every home.” I also illuminate the dynamics of the shadowy international trade in animals – the exploitation of the fauna of the global South, and the terrible rates of attrition experienced by creatures during capture and transport. Ultimately, studying Trefflich’s business allows us to access the archive of an industry which drastically impacted millions of animals – and to tell some of their stories.

A Roaring Applause: The Reception of ‘Animal Stars’ in Ancient Roman Spectacles
Kathryn Murphy, Trinity College Dublin

The Roman arena represents one of the most interesting ‘contact zones’ for interspecies relations in the ancient Graeco-Roman world. Within this context, animals were routinely subjected to violent exploitation that placed them under the domination of human agency. Yet despite these tensions, literary numismatic, and iconographic evidence from the city of Rome reveal that from the 1st century AD onwards, some animals were celebrated as star performers just like their human adversaries. Under the Emperor Domitian, the Roman poet Statius mourned the death of a courageous lion from the Colosseum, Martial praised a lion and hare stunt no less than six times in his Epigrams, and for a period of time, coinage circulated with images of a formidable rhinoceros who became memorable for its unexpected fury in the arena. These memoirs offer a rare insight into the reception of feral celebrities in antiquity and their place within Roman society. In this talk, I explore the ontological status of non-human performers in Roman spectacles with the intention of highlighting the complex and flexible relationships that developed in the contentious setting of the arena. Using a range of material culture from Rome, this talk brings to light unique stories of animal stars and demonstrates how animals were boldly represented and remembered in the archives. It evokes questions of agency and encourages reflection upon our own complex relationship with non-human performers in the entertainment industry. In doing so, I hope to introduce new and innovative methods of thinking about animal histories in antiquity and modernity. 

Broadcast Beasts: animals in the BBC’s Radio Times
Max Long, University of Cambridge

During the UK lockdown in March 2020, with archives suddenly unreachable, I found myself looking for new online ways to pursue my research on natural history in the mass media of interwar Britain. I decided to complete a survey of the BBC’s Radio Times magazine, paying close attention to references to natural history, biology and animals. By reading listener’s letters, editorials, guest articles and advertisements from the Radio Times, I came to realise quite how central animals were to discussions of radio as a technology. For instance, BBC engineers frequently tried to capture live animal sounds as a kind of ‘stunt’ to demonstrate what radio could achieve. On the other hand, listeners repeatedly wrote letters to the Radio Times reporting animal reactions to wireless technology, such that it became a running joke in the letters section, which became filled with increasingly ludicrous anecdotes. Advertisements, moreover, used photographs and drawings of animals and young children using radio equipment to sell all sorts of products, and the ‘Zoo Man’ was the most popular presenter on ‘Children’s Hour’. In this paper, I will discuss how and why animals became so central to radio’s identity in the early years of the BBC. In doing so, I will explore methodological questions arising from the study of animal histories using archival materials which, like the Radio Times, help us understand how animals were represented in popular culture across a range of media, including radio, print and photography.