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The Afterlives of Animals

The Afterlives of Animals: A Museum Menagerie

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Afterlives of Animals
    Book Description:

    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

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3208-8
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: The Dead Ark
    (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 from a local Victorian naturalist, twentieth-century curators built an educational display in which the decapitated mounts poked their heads through the window of a jolly ark (see fig.1).¹ Few displays demonstrate so effectively in a single glance the changing functions of natural history museums and the radical shifts in the meanings of animals: from life on the savannah to a sportsman’s prize, from...

  5. “The Queen’s Ass”: The Cultural Life of Queen Charlotte’s Zebra in Georgian Britain
    (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 Georgian Britain were as restrained and would have denied themselves a smirk at Watkins’s fastidiousness.1 Queen Charlotte was associated with two living zebra in her lifetime, and they became a significant public representation of her character and that of her son in British culture.2 These two zebra had a material history as they shifted between exhibitionary contexts as well as between life and...

  6. Maharajah the Elephant’s Journey From Nature to Culture
    (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, but rather the skeleton of an Asian elephant. This imposing specimen had until then been displayed in the natural history galleries in a distant part of the building. He was Maharajah, “the elephant who walked to Manchester” in 1872: veteran of a traveling menagerie, a gaudy auction, and a zoo while alive; and of two museums and...

  7. Sir Roger the Elephant
    (pp. 58-74)

    Amounted, twenty-seven-year-old, male Asian elephant:Elephas maximusto 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 wellloved animal in the Glasgow Museums collections. At nearly ten feet (three meters) high, his size makes him hard to ignore. He has been a focal conversation point in the Kelvingrove Museum galleries since they first opened, more than one hundred years ago. The museum archives, the local press, the autobiography of his one-time owner E. H. Bostock, and personal knowledge give many interesting insights into...

  8. “Under the Skin”: The Biography of a Manchester Mandrill
    (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. But for the last one hundred years it has been preserved as a study skin—its movement restricted to the various drawers, shelves, and rooms of museum storage. During the mandrill’s journey through life and afterlife as commodity, zoo exhibit, and museum specimen, its meaning and status has been determined by cultural context....

  9. Balto the Dog
    (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 below minus sixty degrees—kept the nation enthralled for five-and-a-half days. Children were dying in Nome, and it would be the heroism of men and dogs that would save them. Balto was one of more than 150 dogs, and his musher, Gunnar Kaasen,...

  10. The Biogeographies of a Hollow-Eyed Harrier
    (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 fineweave swatch of caramel and crème. Wing feathers: closeplated, clean-edged, with arching white strips. Eyes: emptied, yet defined by a pale-colored patch, tapering to a hooked V. Primaries, when fanned as if for flight: ring-tailed with dark bars of sober brown, alternating with blocks of white. By their very nature, bird skins are featherlight; husky, and dry to the touch. Though long since ruffled, they still offer whispers of the airy life. For the pure love of...

  11. Biological Objects and “Mascotism”: The Life and Times of Alfred the Gorilla
    (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 of nature and the environment, our outlook on collecting, and the prestige attached to the collections themselves. They may also trace changes in education and entertainment and reflect societal, political, or cultural values.¹ Like others in this book, this essay considers the multilayered meanings and different values that are, and can be, applied to one particular biological...

  12. Neurath’s Whale
    (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 history displays:

    A huge whale hangs in the middle of the hall; but we do not learn how the “beard” is transformed into old-fashioned corsets, how the skin is transformed into shoes, or the fat into soap that finds its way to the dressing room of a beautiful woman. Nor do we learn how many whales are...

  13. The Afterlife of Chi-Chi
    (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, by the Zoological Society of London (or ZSL, with assistance from Granada Television) for £ 12,000. She was an instant hit with the public, but her fame peaked in 1966, when the Zoological Society of London sent her back to Moscow Zoo to hook up with An-An, then the only other giant panda in...

  14. The Thames Whale: The Difficult Birth of a Celebrity Specimen
    (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 one or two animals had been seen some fifteen miles upriver passing through the barrier. Over the course of the following two days, a sequence of events took place which captivated many of the occupants of one of the biggest cities in the world. As news spread across the globe,...

  15. Enlivened through Memory Hunters and Hunting Trophies
    (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 and maybe eaten by them. Some of the animals discussed here, perhaps captured in the wild, did, once, have a natural life and were, once, wildlife. All of them, though (with the exception of the hen harrier), had cultural lives (albeit a short one in the case of the Thames Whale); lives lived in the presence of or with humans. They...

  16. An Afterword on Afterlife
    (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” is what we have classed as its afterlife. The preceding essays recount particular kinds of narratives and thereby produce and define particular kinds of afterlives—principally sequels to some measure of celebrity status acquired by an individual animal, or imposed upon it, while it was alive. These are the animals that gain entry to celebrity...

    (pp. 235-240)
  18. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 241-242)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 243-248)