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…

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…

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…

Colonial Slaughterhouse Rules

A couple of weeks ago I had an article published by the Journal of Historical Geography on the history of dairy cattle in colonial Burma. The article explored how oxen were bound up with colonial geographies; in this case through the state’s policing of the movement of Indian milch cattle into British Burma. Something that…

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…

Anti-Colonial Primatology

Animal histories often attempt to de-centre the human in their narratives. They show instead how the actions of non-human animals have made possible and frustrated human activities. They also show how definitions of what it means to be human have been premised on contrasts with the animal other. In both of these arguments, animal historians…

Monkey Business in Yangon Zoo

I’ve spent most of today trying to read a gossip column from 1928 that appeared in the Burmese language newspaper Thuriya. The column was a regular feature in the paper which ran from at least as early as 1915 and was written by a man going by the pseudonym ‘Town Mouse’. In this particular episode,…

Learning Burmese, Colonial Style

I have recently begun working my way through a book designed to teach English speakers written Burmese. But unlike the textbooks that I have previously used, this one is a little dated. It was published in 1894 and was written by Richard Fleming St. Andrew St. John, an English Orientalist, colonial official and translator of…

Exploding Mosquito Larvae and Jumping Lab Rats

I’m often tempted, when researching the history of science, to focus on experiments that seem, today, to have been odd or unusual. This is not a helpful approach. It can belittle the scientific understandings of the past and reinforce the simplistic story that ideas inexorably improve over time. Despite this, recently I found myself giving…

Reading Burmese Animal Tattoos

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog about Captain Constantine, an Albanian man whose entire body was covered with Burmese tattoos. When he left Southeast Asia for Europe and then north America in the 1870s he became the object of considerable scientific, medical and anthropological curiosity. Later he toured with the circus of…