Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo (Animals, History, Culture)

Nigel Rothfels

Published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002
ISBN 10: 0801869102 / ISBN 13: 9780801869105
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To modern sensibilities, nineteenth-century zoos often seem to be unnatural places where animals led miserable lives in cramped, wrought-iron cages. Today zoo animals, in at least the better zoos, wander in open spaces that resemble natural habitats and are enclosed, not by bars, but by moats, cliffs, and other landscape features. In Savages and Beasts, Nigel Rothfels traces the origins of the modern zoo to the efforts of the German animal entrepreneur Carl Hagenbeck.

By the late nineteenth century, Hagenbeck had emerged as the world's undisputed leader in the capture and transport of exotic animals. His business included procuring and exhibiting indigenous peoples in highly profitable spectacles throughout Europe and training exotic animals―humanely, Hagenbeck advertised―for circuses around the world. When in 1907 the Hagenbeck Animal Park opened in a village near Hamburg, Germany, Hagenbeck brought together all his business interests in a revolutionary zoological park. He moved wild animals out of their cages and into "natural landscapes" alongside "primitive" peoples from Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the islands of the Pacific. Hagenbeck had invented a new way of imagining captivity: the animals and people on exhibit appeared to be living in the wilds of their native lands.

By looking at Hagenbeck's multiple enterprises, Savages and Beasts demonstrates how seemingly enlightened ideas about the role of zoos and the nature of animal captivity developed within the essentially tawdry business of placing exotic creatures on public display. Rothfels provides both fascinating reading and much-needed historical perspective on the nature of our relationship with the animal kingdom.

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To modern sensibilities, early zoos seem to have been unnatural places where animals led miserable lives in cramped, wrought-iron cages. Today zoo animals typically wander in open spaces that resemble natural habitats and are enclosed, not by bars, but by moats, cliffs, and other landscape features. Savages and Beasts traces the origins of the modern zoo in the efforts of nineteenth-century German animal entrepreneur Carl Hagenbeck. How did seemingly enlightened ideas about the role of zoos and the nature of animal captivity develop out of the simple business of placing exotic creatures on public display?

"This is much more than a history of Hagenbeck's many successes. It is an historical explanation for why the environments of zoos today are meant to mask the human character of the places in which animals are forced to live their unnatural lives."― American Historical Review

"A fine read, in which good use of picture archives has complemented the writer's extensive documentary research."― New Scientist

"Rothfels is attuned to the ironies pervading zoos' mediation of people and animals and understands that zoos operate according to entrepreneurial rather than environmental principles."― Chronicle of Higher Education

"Convincingly argues that the image of Hagenbeck as a modern-day Noah, a great animal lover trying to educate the public about the wonders of nature, belies the basic nature of Hagenbeck's enterprise... Rothfels raises questions about past practices of exhibiting animals (and people) and about what zoos of the present are all about."― Journal of the History of Biology

"A fascinating if disturbing tale of animal and human display."― German Studies Review

Nigel Rothfels received his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and is the director of the Office of Undergraduate Research at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies at Princeton University, the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the editor of the interdisciplinary collection Representing Animals.

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern ...
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication Date: 2002
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Good
Edition: 1st - may be Reissue.

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