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The Afterlives of Animals

A Museum Menagerie

Edited by Samuel J.M.M. Alberti

Publication Year: 2011

In the quiet halls of the natural history museum, there are some creatures still alive with stories, whose personalities refuse to be relegated to the dusty corners of an exhibit. The fame of these beasts during their lifetimes has given them an iconic status in death. More than just museum specimens, these animals have attained a second life as historical and cultural records. This collection of essays--from a broad array of contributors, including anthropologists, curators, fine artists, geographers, historians, and journalists--comprises short "biographies" of a number of famous taxidermized animals. Each essay traces the life, death, and museum "afterlife" of a specific creature, illuminating the overlooked role of the dead beast in the modern human-animal encounter through practices as disparate as hunting and zookeeping. The contributors offer fresh examinations of the many levels at which humans engage with other animals, especially those that function as both natural and cultural phenomena, including Queen Charlotte’s pet zebra, Maharajah the elephant, and Balto the sled dog, among others. Readers curious about the enduring fascination with animals who have attained these strange afterlives will be drawn to the individual narratives within each essay, while learning more about the scientific, cultural, and museological contexts of each subject. Ranging from autobiographical to analytical, the contributors’ varying styles make this delightful book a true menagerie.

Contributors: Samuel J. M. M. Alberti, Royal College of Surgeons * Sophie Everest, University of Manchester * Kate Foster * Michelle Henning, University of the West of England, Bristol * Hayden Lorimer, University of Glasgow * Garry Marvin, Roehampton University, London * Henry Nicholls * Hannah Paddon * Merle Patchett * Christopher Plumb, University of Manchester * Rachel Poliquin * Jeanne Robinson, Glasgow Museums * Mike Rutherford, University of the West Indies * Richard C. Sabin, Natural History Museum * Richard Sutcliffe, Glasgow Museums * Geoffrey N. Swinney, University of Edinburgh

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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Introduction: The Dead Ark

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pp. 1-16

One of my favorite natural history exhibits, now sadly extinct, was “Abel‘s Ark” at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle upon Tyne (now part of the Great North Museum). Faced with a collection of sporting trophy heads inherited...

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“The Queen’s Ass”: The Cultural Life of Queen Charlotte’s Zebra in Georgian Britain

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pp. 17-36

So John Watkins’s (1786–1831) biography of Queen Charlotte, after a particularly unctuous and sugared account of the late queen’s domestic happiness and patronage of charitable institutions, dithered around the matter of the “Queen’s Ass.” Few in...

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Maharajah the Elephant’s Journey: From Nature to Culture

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pp. 37-57

In April 2009, the Manchester Museum, part of the University of Manchester, opened a new gallery displaying the connections between the history of the city and its people with the museum itself. The centerpiece was neither a spinning machine nor a steam train...

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Sir Roger the Elephant

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pp. 58-74

A mounted, twenty-seven-year-old, male Asian elephant: Elephas maximus to the scientists; accession number 1900.170 to the museum professionals; but Sir Roger to those who know and love him. Sir Roger is the most iconic and well-loved...

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“Under the Skin": The Biography of a Manchester Mandrill

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pp. 75-91

This essay explores the biographical potential of a male mandrill donated by Belle Vue Zoological Gardens to the Manchester Museum in 1909. During its short life, the mandrill traveled from the wilds of West Africa to the cages of a provincial zoo in the north of England...

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Balto the Dog

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pp. 92-109

Balto (ca. 1914–1933) was a black Siberian husky and the lead sled dog on the final leg of a desperate journey in the winter of 1925 to carry the diphtheria antitoxin into the icebound town of Nome, Alaska. The extraordinary 674–mile (1,085–kilometer) run — through blizzards, across a frozen inlet, and in temperatures that dipped...

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The Biogeographies of a Hollow-Eyed Harrier

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pp. 110-133

Even in her reduced state — and before other words intrude — she remains a thing of the severest beauty (see fig. 1). Breast: a fine-weave swatch of caramel and crème. Wing feathers: close-plated, clean-edged, with arching white strips. Eyes: emptied...

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Biological Objects and “Mascotism”: The Life and Times of Alfred the Gorilla

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pp. 134-150

Biological collections have been assembled and displayed for centuries in private homes and institutions, public galleries and museums. Contemporary collections are often an amalgamation of historic rare, extinct, common, local, and exotic specimens. These specimens record the changes and revolutions in our knowledge...

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Neurath’s Whale

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pp. 151-168

In 1933, the American magazine Survey Graphic published an article entitled “Museums of the Future” by the Viennese museum director and polymath Otto Neurath. Neurath gave the example of a typical whale exhibit to explain what he saw as the limits of natural...

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The Afterlife of Chi-Chi

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pp. 169-185

During the 1960s, Chi-Chi the giant panda — London Zoo’s most valuable inmate — achieved global superstardom. Born in the wild in 1957, in the mountains of Sichuan Province in China, she was taken to Peking Zoo, Moscow, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Copenhagen, before being purchased, in September 1958...

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The Thames Whale: The Difficult Birth of a Celebrity Specimen

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pp. 186-201

On the morning of 19 January 2006, the Natural History Museum’s Whale Strandings hotline received a telephone call from Thames Coastguard. The caller gave details of an earlier sighting of several whales at the mouth of the Thames estuary. Later the same day, staff at the Thames Barrier reported that...

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Enlivened through Memory: Hunters and Hunting Trophies

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pp. 202-218

All of the animals explored in this volume have had afterlives that are longer, and more complex, than those of their species counterparts which died naturally, decomposed, or were eaten by other animals, or which were killed by humans...

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An Afterword on Afterlife

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pp. 219-234

Wildlife occurs within ecosystems, while the afterlives accounted for in this book are enacted in and through (human) social systems. In the museum, it is the visitor who breathes new life into objects, and, in the case of representations of once-living organisms, that “new life”...

Further Reading

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pp. 235-240


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pp. 241-242


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pp. 243-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780813932088
E-ISBN-10: 0813932084
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813931678
Print-ISBN-10: 0813931673

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 36 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 785940939
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Afterlives of Animals

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Animals -- Biography.
  • Zoological specimens -- Collection and preservation.
  • Natural history museums -- Exhibitions.
  • Famous animals -- Collection and preservation.
  • Famous animals -- Biography.
  • Taxidermy -- Anecdotes.
  • Menageries.
  • Animals and civilization.
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