Darwin’s Empire of Emotions

Recently I’ve found myself interested in Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. This is in no small part because of its charming illustrations of cats and dogs in a variety of emotional states. In the book, Darwin closely describes the bodily signs of emotion shown in different species to…

Theories of Evolution in Colonial Burma

Historians of natural history have long explored the emergence of evolutionary theory. Most of the studies that I have read on the subject tend to discuss its development and influence within an Imperial framework. The colonized world appears in these histories as a site in which key figures, such as Alfred Russell Wallace and Charles…

Colonial Canicide, Cruel to be Kind?

One of the ways in which British colonizers sought to distinguish themselves from the colonized populations that they ruled over, and to justify that rule, was through claiming that they treated animals more humanely than the ‘natives’. In Burma this claim was also made, but it was not always straight-forward. Buddhism was viewed by imperial…

Prisoners and Pariah Dogs

Many things have changed in Yangon since I first visited as a wide-eyed PhD student back in 2008, but the city’s street dogs remain a ubiquitous presence. Although, they have had their own share of difficulties since then. In 2013 the city’s authorities were accused of poisoning them in order to beautify the streets in…

A Dog’s Life in Colonial Burma

I have just finished reading a traveller’s account of Burma published in 1909 and purportedly written by a dog. The dog, called ‘John’, travelled the northern-most reaches of the colony with his master, ‘the Colonel’, the Colonel’s wife, the ‘Mem Sahib’, their female friend, referred to only as ‘Missy Sahib’, and their entourage of Indian…