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Institute for Cultural Practices

Dr Chris Plumb (completed in 2005)

Exotic animals in eighteenth-century England

Christopher's doctoral research was a cultural history of exotic animals in eighteenth-century Britain. These animals are conspicuously absent in economic histories and discussions of material culture in eighteenth-century Britain, even though they were highly sought-after luxury goods. As a response, this thesis was a step towards a fuller understanding of the broad yet related meanings that a range of exotic animals held in Georgian Britain.

His thesis explored the significance of exotic animals  in turn, through their function as commodities, as objects of sensory encounter, as political symbols and charismatic material for anatomical investigation. The histories of animals like the kangaroo, elephant, zebra, and electric eel were utilised to understand practices of collecting and spectatorship, national cultures and natural history.

Exhibition and the production of knowledge were interrelated, so ideas produced by some practitioners were absorbed, transmuted and modified into different cultural forms and contexts. The thesis shows how new spaces emerged for the spectatorship of exotic animals during the long eighteenth century, and, as such, that these animals should be historicised as eighteenth-century British phenomenon.