Travelling menageries, animal acts and war shows
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Throughout the 19th century animals were integrated into staged scenarios of confrontation, ranging from lion acts in small cages to large-scale re-enactments of war. Initially presenting a handful of exotic animals, travelling menageries grew to contain multiple species in their thousands. These 19th-century menageries entrenched beliefs about the human right to exploit nature through war-like practices against other animal species. Animal shows became a stimulus for antisocial behaviour as locals taunted animals, caused fights, and even turned into violent mobs. Human societal problems were difficult to separate from issues of cruelty to animals.
Apart from reflecting human capacity for fighting and aggression, and the belief in human dominance over nature, these animal performances also echoed cultural fascination with conflict, war and colonial expansion, as the grand spectacles of imperial power reinforced state authority and enhanced public displays of nationhood and nationalistic evocations of colonial empires.
Fighting nature is an insightful analysis of the historical legacy of 19th-century colonialism, war, animal acquisition and transportation. This legacy of entrenched beliefs about the human right to exploit other animal species is yet to be defeated.
Praise for Fighting Nature
“Peta Tait brings to the book an impressive scholarly command of the documentary material, from which she draws a range of vivid examples and revealing analyses of human–animal confrontation in popular entertainments ... The book is written with verve and clarity, and will be of interest to a wide readership in performance studies and cultural history.”
— Professor Jane R. Goodall, Western Sydney University
“When does fighting end and theatre begin? In this fascinating study, Peta Tait – one of the most prominent authors in the Performance/Animal Studies intersection – explores animal acts with a particular focus on confrontation. The sites of the human–animal encounter range from theatres, circus, and war re-enactments investigating how the development of certain human fighting practices run in parallel with certain types of public exhibits of wild animals.
Tait’s account is … primarily preoccupied with understanding what kinds of animal representation and understandings of nature were being created through these spectacles, and given their great popularity, how influential they were in contributing to key developments in contemporary conceptualizations of nature and animals.
Tait also … challenges established divisions between historical accounts and artistic depictions of animals, actuality and representation.”
—Dr Lourdes Orozco, lecturer in Theatre Studies, University of Leeds
About the Author
Peta Tait FAHA is Professor of Theatre and Drama at La Trobe University and Visiting Professor at the University of Wollongong, and author of Wild and dangerous performances: animals, emotions, circus (2012).