Animal matter in museums

Exemplifying materiality 1

Authored by: Liv Emma Thorsen

The Routledge Companion to Animal–Human History

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138193260
eBook ISBN: 9780429468933
Adobe ISBN:


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Live and dead animals are with us and around us. Innocently and unconsciously, animals have left material sources such as horns, bones, hides, and shells. If animals themselves do not leave documents, the historian’s most prominent sources, there are nevertheless several other ways to encounter their historical existence. The animals of past times subsist as natural matter, for instance, in old photographs, dusty registers, and fragile letters; remnants from encounters between humans and animals which can tell us something about animals’ unnatural history, as historian Nigel Rothfels claims. 2 This chapter will give emphasis to the potential of museum objects as sources for an animal–human history, exploring objects in cultural history museums and natural history museums, institutions that store a variety of objects made of animal remains, ranging from stuffed animals to utility shafts of bone, from viscera in spirit to breeches of canine leather. The examples discussed in this chapter are things made of organic material derived from animals, either objects made to reshape the once-living animal, or objects composed exclusively or partly of animal matter. The question is what kind of knowledge may such objects provide, beyond their form, shape, materials, and technique.

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