Fighting Nature: Travelling menageries, animal acts and war shows
Fighting Nature: Travelling menageries, animal acts and war shows
Peta Tait
Sydney University Press
ISBN: 9781743324301

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.

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Praise for Fighting Nature

“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.

However, the book also contains an important consideration around the concepts of fact and fiction. Through its investigation of animal presence in real battles and re-enacted ones, and its examination of animal acts including wild animals in which the real and the performed are regularly blurred, 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

Fighting Nature is an important contribution to the growing field of research on nineteenth century show business.

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. She addresses the cultural and performative dimensions of these in ways that throw light on changing ideas of species hierarchy in a period of colonial ideology. 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 Goodall, Writing and Society Research Centre, Western Sydney University

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 (2012).

Series Information: Animal Publics

The Animal Publics series publishes original and important research in animal studies by both established and emerging scholars. Animal Publics takes inspiration from varied and changing modalities of the encounter between animal and human. The series explores intersections between humanities and the sciences, the creative arts and the social sciences, with an emphasis on ideas and practices about how animal life becomes public: attended to, listened to, made visible, foregrounded, included and transformed. Animal Publics investigates publics past and present, and publics to come, made up of more-than-humans and humans entangled with other species.

Other titles in the Animal Publics series:

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cover image of animals in the anthropocene Animals in the Anthropocene: Critical perspectives on non-human futures, edited by the Human Animal Research Network Editorial Collective
cover image of animal death book Animal Death, edited by Jay Johnston and Fiona Probyn-Rapsey
cover image of animal death book Engaging With Animals: Interpretations of a shared existence, edited by Georgette Leah Burns and Mandy Paterson (Eds)
cover image of animal death book Cane Toads: A tale of sugar, politics and flawed science by Nigel Turvey

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