Proliferating Elephants

One of the things that I was not sure of when helping to set up the recent Elephants and Empire exhibition at Myanmar Deitta gallery in Yangon, was the intended purpose of these photographs. Originally taken by staff of the Steel Brothers company documenting the teak industry, there were no accompanying written documents explaining what they…

Animals Against Whiteness

Apparently, some animals in Burma had a particular loathing for White people. According to the Fitz William Pollok and W. S. Thom’s 1900 guide to wild sports, buffaloes were especially ill-disposed to White skin. Informing would-be imperial hunters of the animal’s general ferocity, they warned that, ‘Even the tame cow, that will allow itself to…

Historical Pose-abilities of Colonial Photography

I’ve just got back from Yangon where I was helping to set up the “Elephants and Empire” exhibition currently running at the Myanmar Deitta photograph gallery. The exhibition shows historical photographs originally taken for Steel Brothers & Co. Ltd, a British firm that operated in the teak industry, and that are now held in the…

Exhibiting Elephants

On January 7 an exhibition, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, displaying historical photographs of the teak industry will open at the Myanmar Deitta gallery in Yangon. I am really excited about it. The photographs that will be shown have been generously made available by the London Metropolitan Archives. The originals were taken…

Traps and Tangles

Last week I attended a brilliant conference on the topic of “Traps” over at the Centre for Research into the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities in Cambridge. The purpose of the discussion was to consider the utility of thinking with traps to understand the technological mediations of human-animal relations, across different places and times. The…

Animal Actors in Theatres of War

Total war was a more-than-human phenomenon and during the Second World War a variety of animals were mobilized and killed. The Burma theatre was no exception. I was recently reminded of this when a couple of friends shared a reprint of an article celebrating the war work done by carrier pigeons. The article details the…

The Elephant in the Strike

The memoirs of British employees in the timber industry and the archives of British-owned timber firms both document  some small-scale and seemingly-spontaneous strikes that occurred in the Burmese jungle during the 1920s. Elephant drivers—called oozies in Burmese—refused to work unless their conditions and pay improved. But striking in a jungle timber camp was not an…

Counting the Dead

It is near impossible to give accurate figures for the numbers of wild animals killed by imperial hunters in colonial Burma. It is harder still to tell what effect that hunting might have had on the wildlife populations. It is, however, possible to get a sense of how many animals were killed by some individual…

Teak and Photography in Colonial Burma

A few days ago the great grandson of Percival Marshall—an employee of the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation during the interwar years—made contact with me to share his relavtive’s photographs of working in colonial Burma’s forests. The images document the labour that went into felling trees and transporting them across the country for export. They show…

Translating Titles

During the colonial period a series of white men published books about elephants based on their experiences of working with them in Burma. By independence in 1948, there was a clear canon of texts about elephants. Authors cited certain writers who were deemed to be ‘authorities’ in the subject: Mitchell, Pfaff, Hepburn, Ferrier, Evans, Sanderson…

Paratextual Pachyderms

This week I read Sainthill Eardley-Wilmot’s 1912 book The Life of an Elephant. It was one of a number of fictional accounts of animal lives written in the early-twentieth century that attempted to capture what it might be like to be another species. Eardley-Wilmot himself had previously published a popular volume on the life of…

Smells Like Empire (to an Elephant)

About a year ago I wrote a blog post about British colonizers’ sense of smell in Burma. I suggested that what they thought smelt bad revealed their prejudices about Burmese society. In addition, I wrote that they believed their nasal experience of Empire led them to have more refined sensibilities than their compatriots back home….