The Johns Hopkins University Press

Animals, History, Culture

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Animals, History, Culture

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Entertaining Elephants

Animal Agency and the Business of the American Circus

Susan Nance

Consider the career of an enduring if controversial icon of American entertainment: the genial circus elephant. In Entertaining Elephants Susan Nance examines elephant behavior—drawing on the scientific literature of animal cognition, learning, and communications—to offer a study of elephants as actors (rather than objects) in American circus entertainment between 1800 and 1940. By developing a deeper understanding of animal behavior, Nance asserts, we can more fully explain the common history of all species. Entertaining Elephants is the first account that uses research on animal welfare, health, and cognition to interpret the historical record, examining how both circus people and elephants struggled behind the scenes to meet the profit necessities of the entertainment business. The book does not claim that elephants understood, endorsed, or resisted the world of show business as a human cultural or business practice, but it does speak of elephants rejecting the conditions of their experience. They lived in a kind of parallel reality in the circus, one that was defined by their interactions with people, other elephants, horses, bull hooks, hay, and the weather. Nance’s study informs and complicates contemporary debates over human interactions with animals in entertainment and beyond, questioning the idea of human control over animals and people's claims to speak for them. As sentient beings, these elephants exercised agency, but they had no way of understanding the human cultures that created their captivity, and they obviously had no claim on (human) social and political power. They often lived lives of apparent desperation.

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The Horse in the City

Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century

Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr

The nineteenth century was the golden age of the horse. In urban America, the indispensable horse provided the power for not only vehicles that moved freight, transported passengers, and fought fires but also equipment in breweries, mills, foundries, and machine shops. Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr, prominent scholars of American urban life, here explore the critical role that the horse played in the growing nineteenth-century metropolis. Using such diverse sources as veterinary manuals, stable periodicals, teamster magazines, city newspapers, and agricultural yearbooks, they examine how the horses were housed and fed and how workers bred, trained, marketed, and employed their four-legged assets. Not omitting the problems of waste removal and corpse disposal, they touch on the municipal challenges of maintaining a safe and productive living environment for both horses and people and the rise of organizations like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. In addition to providing an insightful account of life and work in nineteenth-century urban America, The Horse in the City brings us to a richer understanding of how the animal fared in this unnatural and presumably uncomfortable setting.

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Horse People

Thoroughbred Culture in Lexington and Newmarket

Rebecca Cassidy

The world of Thoroughbred racing is glamorous, secretive, dangerous, and seductive—the sport of kings and the poor man's obsession. While the spectacle of racing stirs the imagination, it belies the ruthless business that lies beneath. This engaging original study demystifies this complex world by comparing centers of excellence in Britain and North America. Drawing from intensive field work in Suffolk's Newmarket and Kentucky's Lexington, Rebecca Cassidy gives us the inside track on all players in the industry—from the elite breeders and owners to the stable boys, racetrack workers, and veterinarians. She leads us through horse farms, breeding barns, and yearling sales; explains rigorous training regimens; and brings us trackside on race day. But the history of Thoroughbred racing culture is more than a collection of fascinating characters and exciting events. Cassidy's investigation reveals the factors—ethical, cultural, political, and economic—that have shaped the racing tradition.

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Looking for a Few Good Males

Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology

Erika Lorraine Milam

Why do female animals select certain mates, and how do scientists determine the answer? In considering these questions, Erika Lorraine Milam explores the fascinating patterns of experiment and interpretation that emerged as twentieth-century researchers studied sexual selection and female choice. Approaching the topic from both biological and animal-studies perspectives, Milam not only presents a broad history of sexual selection—from Darwin to sociobiology—but also analyzes the animal-human continuum from the perspectives of sex, evolution, and behavior. She asks how social and cultural assumptions influence human-animal research and wonders about the implications of gender on scientific outcomes. Although female choice appears to be a straightforward theoretical concept, the study of sexual selection has been anything but simple. Scientists in the early twentieth century investigated female choice in animals but did so with human social and sexual behavior as their ultimate objective. By the 1940s, evolutionary biologists and population geneticists shifted their focus, studying instead how evolution affected natural animal populations. Two decades later, organismal biologists once again redefined the investigation of sexual selection as sociobiology came to dominate the discipline. Outlining the ever-changing history of this field of study, Milam uncovers lost mid-century research programs and finds that the discipline did not languish in the decades between Darwin’s theory of sexual selection and sociobiology, as observers commonly believed. Rather, population geneticists, ethologists, and organismal biologists alike continued to investigate this important theory throughout the twentieth century.

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Savages and Beasts

The Birth of the Modern Zoo

Nigel Rothfels

To modern sensibilities, nineteenth-century zoos often seem to be unnatural places where animals led miserable lives in cramped, wrought-iron cages. Today zoo animals, in at least the better zoos, wander in open spaces that resemble natural habitats and are enclosed, not by bars, but by moats, cliffs, and other landscape features. In Savages and Beasts, Nigel Rothfels traces the origins of the modern zoo to the efforts of the German animal entrepreneur Carl Hagenbeck. By the late nineteenth century, Hagenbeck had emerged as the world's undisputed leader in the capture and transport of exotic animals. His business included procuring and exhibiting indigenous peoples in highly profitable spectacles throughout Europe and training exotic animals—humanely, Hagenbeck advertised—for circuses around the world. When in 1907 the Hagenbeck Animal Park opened in a village near Hamburg, Germany, Hagenbeck brought together all his business interests in a revolutionary zoological park. He moved wild animals out of their cages and into "natural landscapes" alongside "primitive" peoples from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the islands of the Pacific. Hagenbeck had invented a new way of imagining captivity: the animals and people on exhibit appeared to be living in the wilds of their native lands. By looking at Hagenbeck's multiple enterprises, Savages and Beasts demonstrates how seemingly enlightened ideas about the role of zoos and the nature of animal captivity developed within the essentially tawdry business of placing exotic creatures on public display. Rothfels provides both fascinating reading and much-needed historical perspective on the nature of our relationship with the animal kingdom.

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Six Legs Better

A Cultural History of Myrmecology

Charlotte Sleigh

Ants long have fascinated linguists, human sociologists, and even cyberneticians. At the end of the nineteenth century, ants seemed to be admirable models for human life and were praised for their work ethic, communitarianism, and apparent empathy. They provided a natural-theological lesson on the relative importance of humans within creation and inspired psychologists to investigate the question of instinct and its place in the life of higher animals and humans. By the 1930s, however, ants came to symbolize one of modernity's deepest fears: the loss of selfhood. Researchers then viewed the ant colony as an unthinking mass, easily ruled and slavishly organized. In this volume, Charlotte Sleigh uses specific representations of ants within the field of entomology from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries to explore the broader role of metaphors in science and their often unpredictable translations. Marking the centenary of the coining of "myrmecology" to describe the study of ants, Six Legs Better demonstrates the remarkable historical role played by ants as a node where notions of animal, human, and automaton intersect.

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Spark from the Deep

How Shocking Experiments with Strongly Electric Fish Powered Scientific Discovery

William J. Turkel

Spark from the Deep tells the story of how human beings came to understand and use electricity by studying the evolved mechanisms of strongly electric fish. These animals have the ability to shock potential prey or would-be predators with high-powered electrical discharges. William J. Turkel asks completely fresh questions about the evolutionary, environmental, and historical aspects of people’s interest in electric fish. Stimulated by painful encounters with electric catfish, torpedos, and electric eels, people learned to harness the power of electric shock for medical therapies and eventually developed technologies to store, transmit, and control electricity. Now we look to these fish as an inspiration for engineering new sensors, computer interfaces, autonomous undersea robots, and energy-efficient batteries.

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Wired Wilderness

Technologies of Tracking and the Making of Modern Wildlife

Etienne Benson

American wildlife biologists first began fitting animals with radio transmitters in the 1950s. By the 1980s the practice had proven so useful to scientists and nonscientists alike that it became global. Wired Wilderness is the first book-length study of the origin, evolution, use, and impact of these now-commonplace tracking technologies. Combining approaches from environmental history, the history of science and technology, animal studies, and the cultural and political history of the United States, Etienne Benson traces the radio tracking of wild animals across a wide range of institutions, regions, and species and in a variety of contexts. He explains how hunters, animal-rights activists, and other conservation-minded groups gradually turned tagging from a tool for control into a conduit for connection with wildlife. Drawing on extensive archival research, interviews with wildlife biologists and engineers, and in-depth case studies of specific conservation issues—such as the management of deer, grouse, and other game animals in the upper Midwest and the conservation of tigers and rhinoceroses in Nepal—Benson illuminates telemetry's context-dependent uses and meanings as well as commonalities among tagging practices. Wired Wilderness traces the evolution of the modern wildlife biologist’s field practices and shows how the intense interest of nonscientists at once constrained and benefited the field. Scholars of and researchers involved in wildlife management will find this history both fascinating and revealing.

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