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Continental Creatures: Animals and History in Contemporary Europe

  • ANDREW J. P. FLACK (a1)

In Norse mythology Fenrir, a wolf God born of the God of fire, possessed so much power that he horrified the other gods. Restrained by a chain forged from elements of the earth – such as the breath of fish and the roots of mountains – his power was held in check so that it could not be unleashed across the realms of gods and men. The chains of his captivity appeared to be fragile but were in fact supernaturally robust, though his eventual catastrophic escape was foretold by oracles of the age.

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1 ‘Canis Lupus’, available at [last visited 23 August 2016].

2 L. Boitani, ‘Wolf Conservation and Recovery’, in L. D. Mech, and L. Boitani, eds., Wolves: Behavior, Ecology and Conservation, (Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 317–40. For wider scholarship on post-war rural nostalgia, see Mendras, Henri, La Fin des Paysans: Innovations et changement dans le agriculture franaise(Paris: S.E.D.E.I.S 1967).

3 Regan, Tom, The Case for Animal Rights (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983); Singer, Peter Animal Liberation (London: Cape, 1975).

4 Darnton, Robert, The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History (London: Allan Lane, 1984); Evans, E. P., The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (London: W. Heinemann, 1906). See also Radclyffe Dugmore, A., The Romance of the Beaver: Being the History of the Beaver in the Western Hemisphere (London: Heinemann, 1914) and Ritchie, James, The Influences of Man on Animal Life in Scotland: A Study in Faunal Evolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1920).

5 Ritvo, Harriet, The Animal Estate: The English and other Creatures in the Victorian Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987). Ritvo has continued to shape the field in the years since: Ritvo, Harriet, The Platypus and the Mermaid and other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997); Ritvo, Harriet, ‘Animal Planet’, Environmental History, 9, 2 (2004), 204–20; Ritvo, Harriet, ‘Among Animals’, Environment and History, 20 (2014), 491–8.

6 Levi-Strauss, Claude, Totemism, trans. by Needham, Rodney (Uckfield: Beacon Press, 1963); Kalof, Linda and Resl, Brigitte, eds., A Cultural History of Animals (Oxford: Berg, 2007, 6 volumes); Kete, Kathleen, The Beast in the Boudoir: Pet-Keeping in Nineteenth-Century Paris (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994); Robbins, Louise, Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots: Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Paris (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).

7 Plenty of recent works do an excellent job engaging with the real animal. Indeed, in many works the lives of animals are rendered visceral: Braitman, Laurel, Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery help us Understand Ourselves (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014); Coleman, Jon, Vicious: Wolves and Men in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004); Hribal, Jason, Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance (Oakland: AK Press, 2010); Mikhail, Alan, The Animal in Ottoman Egypt (New York: Oxford, 2014); Tucker Jones, Ryan, ‘Running into Whales: The History of the North Pacific from Below the Waves, The American Historical Review, 118, 2 (2013) 349–77.

8 Val Plumwood, ‘Being Prey’ <> (2000); Ritvo, Platypus; Walker, Brett L., ‘Animals and the Intimacy of History’, History & Theory, 52, 4 (2013), 4567.

9 Recent works of note include Flack, Andrew, ‘In Sight, Insane: Animal Agency, Captivity and the Frozen Wilderness in the late Twentieth Century’, Environment and History, 22, 4 (2016) and Pearson, Chris, ‘Between Instinct and Intelligence: Harnessing Police Dog Agency in Early Twentieth-Century Paris’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 58, 2 (2016), 463–90. Many of these works have been founded on insights drawn from the social sciences: Barad, Karen, ‘Agential Realism: Feminist Interventions in Understanding Scientific Practices’, in Biagioli, Mario, ed., The Science Studies Reader, (London: Routledge, 1999), 111; Latour, Bruno, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). For an excellent delineation of these very recent innovations see Specht, Joshua, ‘Animal History after its Triumph: Unexpected Animals, Evolutionary Approaches, and the Animal Lens’, History Compass, 14, 7 (2016), 326–36.

10 See, for instance, Kean, Hilda, Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain since 1800 (London: Reaktion, 1998).

11 See the following journals: Society & Animals, Critical Animal Studies, Anthrozoos.

12 Alberti, Samuel J. M. M., ed., The Afterlives of Animals: A Museum Menagerie (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011); Lorimer, Jamie, ‘Nonhuman Charisma: Which Species Trigger our Emotions and Why?ECOS, 27, 1 (2006), 20–7. For a fascinating exception see Thérèse Takeda, Junko, ‘Global Insects: Silkworms, Sericulture, and Statecraft in Napoleonic France and Tokugawa Japan’, French History, 28, 2 (2014), 207–25.

13 On zoos see, for instance, Hanson, Elizabeth, Animal Attractions: Nature on Display in American Zoos (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002); Miller, Ian Jared, The Nature of the Beasts: Empire and Exhibition at the Tokyo Imperial Zoo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013); Rothfels, Nigel, Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002).

14 Derrida, Jacques, ‘The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)’, Critical Inquiry, 28,2 (2002), 369418.

15 Darwin, Charles R., On the Origin of Species, By Means of Natural Selection: or, the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray, 1859); Darwin, Charles R., The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London: John Murray, 1871).

16 Derrida, ‘Animal’. Also see Erica Fudge, Animal (London: Reaktion, 2002).

17 Specht, ‘Animal History after its Triumph’.

18 See the follow for examples of multispecies ethnographies: Eben Kirksey, S. and Helmreich, Stefan, ‘The emergence of interspecies ethnography’, Cultural Anthropology, 24, 4 (2010), 545–76; Fuetes, Agustín, ‘Natural cultural encounters in Bali: Monkeys, Temples, Tourists, and Ethnoprimatology’, Cultural Anthropology, 24, 4 (2010): 600–24.

19 Ingold, Tim, Lines: A Brief History (London and New York: Routledge, 2007;) Latour, Reassembling the Social.

20 Haraway, Donna, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006).

21 Adams, Carol and Donovan, Josephine, eds., Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995); Emel, Jody, ‘Are you man enough, big and bad enough? Ecofeminism and Wolf Eradication in the USA’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 13 (1995), 707–35; Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Harper & Row, 1980).

22 Deleauze, Felix and Guattari, Gilles, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

23 See writings of French anarchists, including, for example, Michel, Louise, Mémoires tome I (Paris, 1886), Chapter 9, and Fernand Pelloutier and Pelloutier, Maurice, La vie ouvrière en France (Paris: Schleicher frères, 1900), Chapter 10.

24 The different cultural perceptions of a whole host of species have been considered in the Reaktion series of Animal books. There are also a few works that specifically deal with the notion of a hierarchy of being. See, for instance, Desmond, Jane C., Staging Tourism: Bodies on Display from Waikiki to Sea World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).

25 See, for instance, Pearson, Chris, Mobilizing Nature: The Environmental History of War and Militarization in Modern France (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012).

26 Spiegel, Marjorie, The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery (London: Heretic, 1988).

27 There is, of course, an ongoing scholarly conversation about whether or not the Holocaust can be judged to be ‘outside’ of history. See Bartov, Omer, ‘Seeking the Roots of Modern Genocide: On the Macro- and Microhistory of Mass Murder,’ in Gellately, Robert and Kiernan, Ben, eds., The Specter of Genocide: Man Murder in Historical Perspective (Cambridge, CUP, 2003), 7596 and Yehuda Bauer, ‘On the Holocaust and Other Genocides’, Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Annual Lecture, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D. C., 5 October 2006. 2006).

28 Hilberg, Raul, The Destruction of the European Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), Volume 3.

29 Cole, Tim, ‘“Nature was Helping Us”: Forests, Trees and Environmental Histories of the Holocaust’, Environmental History 19, 4 (2014), 665–86; Weber, Suzanne W., ‘The Forest as a Liminal Space: A Transformation of Cultural Norms during the Holocaust’, Holocaust Studies, 14,1 (2008), 3560.

30 Lestel, in Mackenzie, Louisa and Posthumus, Stephanie, eds., French Thinking about Animals (East Lansing: Michigan State University, 2015), 6571.

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Contemporary European History
  • ISSN: 0960-7773
  • EISSN: 1469-2171
  • URL: /core/journals/contemporary-european-history
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