Beasts of place and time: animals and Britishness in popular natural history, c. 1760-1860

Carter, Matthew (2023) Beasts of place and time: animals and Britishness in popular natural history, c. 1760-1860. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This study focuses on the period 1760 to 1860, a time when popular interest in natural history was significantly increasing in Britain, as technological innovations and evolving socio-economic conditions fuelled the growth of popular natural history media aimed at wealthy British urbanites. Through advances in printing, British popular natural history literature became increasingly available, whilst improvements in travel, transportation and preservation techniques all helped to facilitate the growth of exotic animal exhibitions and taxidermy displays. Consequently, popular audiences were able to engage with natural history through a diverse range of intersecting opportunities that centred round a single, congruent body of animal knowledge. This thesis demonstrates how, within this context, conceptualisations of animals contained expressions of Britishness that helped to reinforce particular imaginings of a superior national character that was rooted in notions of modernity and tied to claims of rationality, ingenuity, commercial acumen and benevolence. These imaginings of Britishness, frequently articulated as an expansion of Englishness extending beyond England’s borders to include non-English groups within a single, English-led, cultural hegemony, were frequently communicated through the locating of animals in space and time, which formed a core element of animal conceptualisations.

This thesis examines the discourse surrounding mammals, wild and domestic, native and exotic, the category most explored within works of British popular natural history, ranging from Thomas Pennant’s British Zoology to C. Mackenzie’s The Natural History of All the Most Remarkable Quadrupeds, Birds, Fishes, Reptiles and Insects, published in 1766 and 1860 respectively. Within their conceptualisations of animals, naturalists frequently located species in the past, present or future, tying this temporalised status to the landscapes and societies associated with them and intertwining them with ideas of progress, underpinned by enlightenment understandings of conjectural history and the stadial development of human society. Consequently, the presence of specific animals, both within the British Isles and across the globe, was used to demarcate wild and civilised spaces through an imaginative mapping of the world into chronotopic zones. As animals were viewed through a British lens, they were compared to and assessed against those that were seen to conform to the modern expectations of the wealthy, metropolitan British. This mechanism allowed notions of modern Britishness to be configured against perceptions of a range of internal and external others, which not only helped to reaffirm the self-perceptions of the wealthy, metropolitan British as representative of the national character but also to configure a global hierarchy of civilisations that placed the British at its apex.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Balzaretti, Ross
Watkins, Charles
Gust, Onni
Keywords: natural history, animal history, British national identity, British popular natural history, 1760-1860, natural history museums
Subjects: D History - General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Q Science > QH Natural history. Biology > QH 84 Geophysical distribution. Biogeography
Q Science > QL Zoology > QL1 Zoology (General), including geographical distribution
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of History
Item ID: 72264
Depositing User: Carter, Matthew
Date Deposited: 31 Jul 2023 04:40
Last Modified: 31 Jul 2023 04:40

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