In her introduction to this lively collection, Susan Nance challenges historians “to put nonhumans in the subjects of our sentences” (p. 3). The book captures an energized moment in the growing field of animal history as historians turn from the study of the symbolic animal, burdened with human meanings, to the agential, sentient, and material creature. The Historical Animal brings together sixteen chapters, ranging across species and geographies. Horses and their kind dominate. Nance’s original call for contributions was a broad one, asking historians to reflect on how they do animal history. Drew A. Swanson’s “ecology of history” and Scott A. Miltenberger’s anthrozootic city are the most environmental approaches. David Gary Shaw uses actor network theory to consider medieval horses, and several authors tussle with the question of agency. Zeb Tortorici hunts for animals in the archives. Stephanie Zehnle draws on ethology to consider colonial accounts of “human-leopard murders” in West Africa. Charles W. Gunnell IV and Nicola Foote use ethology and what they call “historical zoology” to explain the persistence of the giant tortoise on the Galapagos Islands. Historians will not be surprised (but might feel vindicated) by their demonstration of the value of historical evidence to inform zoology and might learn from the discussion of scientific categories “that emerge directly from animal experiences” (p. 203), especially the concept of the umwelt, the unique sensory and experiential world of each species. The most methodologically adventurous chapter is about a gorilla, Michael Puig. Concepción Cortés Zulueta analyses Michael’s ability to tell the story of his capture through modified American sign language. Zulueta, who is properly sceptical of some of the sentimental interpretations of Michael’s storytelling, presses the reader to think differently about what a story is, and to consider body language as a way of transmitting the memory of trauma, what she describes as a “blob of pulsating memories and emotions,” and something more akin to filmic techniques than the narrative of written histories. Sandra Swart’s chapter raises questions about the limitations of the human umwelt. She quotes Reinhold Rau, the breeder behind the Quagga Project, who argues that the reanimated quagga need only look like a historical quagga. Rau, a taxidermist by training, might be forgiven an approach that is only skin deep, but as the chapter shows this is common to other reanimations. Why, Swart asks, do we privilege the visual? Why only look at animals? What of the smell, the behavior, and the distinctive call that gave the quagga its name? Nance has refrained from imposing too much order on the collection, instead allowing the various topics and approaches to shift kaleidoscopically in the reading. Noah Cincinnati’s focus is on the contradictory impulses behind gorilla conservation, but it is his description of “sullen” gorillas in captivity that hits the reader hardest after reading Zulueta’s chapter. Cincinnati’s description of the slaughter of adult gorillas in pursuit of their young is echoed in Jason Colby’s chapter on killer whales and Dolly Jørgensen’s on muskoxen. The material evidence in Lisa Cox’s chapter on the C. A. V. Barker Museum of Canadian Veterinary History, however, makes the reader a little sceptical of the reliance on human memories in Andrew McEwen and Andria Pooley-Ebert’s interesting research. War horses were undoubtedly therapeutic and rural horses were often companions, but one might return to Nance’s original question and ask how this relationship looked from the horse’s perspective. Did Dandy enjoy his “fun ride” as much as Canon Frederick Scott? Might his therapeutic work be understood as another form of labor? Can the treatment of rural and urban horses be distinguished so clearly? Urban horses were generally born and bred in the rural environs where cruelty came under less scrutiny than it did the city. Courtney E. White’s analysis of Tony, Hollywood’s wonder horse, and Abraham H. Gibson’s chapter on feral burros seem to better capture the independent spirit of these ornery companions. The collection will be a valuable introduction to animal history and an excellent resource for undergraduate classroom, where each chapter can be read independently and the connections, contradictions and collisions explored. © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society for Environmental History and the Forest History Society. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com
Environmental History – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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