The best books about animal history

Keri Cronin Author Of Art for Animals: Visual Culture and Animal Advocacy, 1870-1914
By Keri Cronin

The Books I Picked & Why

Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain Since 1800

By Hilda Kean

Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain Since 1800

Why this book?

I found this to be a hard list to put together because there are so many excellent books on animal history--on any given day I could have presented a completely different list. However, this was the one book that absolutely had to be on my list. Hilda Kean’s Animal Rights was the book that started me on this journey. I first encountered this book when I was a grad student, and it has shaped my thinking on animal history in many important ways over the years. Animals and concerns for their welfare have always been important to me in my personal life, but I hadn’t thought about incorporating human-animal histories into my scholarship until I read this book. It was a real game-changer for me. This is a very good introduction to some of the shifts in thinking that took place regarding relationships between humans and nonhuman animals in Britain and one I always recommend for people wanting to learn more about human-animal histories.


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Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Canada

By Joanna Dean, Darcy Ingram, Christabelle Sethna

Animal Metropolis: Histories of Human-Animal Relations in Canada

Why this book?

This book is full of engaging and thoughtful essays focusing on the ways that human-animal histories have shaped so many aspects of life in Canada. From the horses on the streets of Montreal in the 19th century to more recent exploration of captive animals in Vancouver, this book presents an important range of topics that ask the reader to think differently about the histories, spaces, and species they may think they know. I also really appreciate that the University of Calgary Press has published an open access version of this book.


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Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and the Business of the American Circus

By Susan Nance

Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and the Business of the American Circus

Why this book?

This book is such an excellent and innovative example of an interdisciplinary approach to animal history. Susan Nance blends current scientific thinking about the welfare, agency, and cognition of elephants with a detailed and highly engaging look at the role of these animals in circus history. This is a wonderful model of how to write animal history, an endeavor that isn’t always that straightforward because archival records tend to focus on human lives, deaths, and achievements.


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Civilised by Beasts: Animals and Urban Change in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

By Juliana Adelman

Civilised by Beasts: Animals and Urban Change in Nineteenth-Century Dublin

Why this book?

This is one of several excellent books that explores how nonhuman animals shaped cities (see also Andrew Robichaud’s Animal City, Frederick L. Brown’s The City is More Than Human, Dawn Day Biehler’s Pests in the City, and Hannah Velten’s Beastly London, for example). Cities are multispecies spaces and they have always been so, even as the history of a given city shifts and changes. When we walk through a city like Dublin today we may not immediately think about the many, many nonhuman animals who used to roam the same streets and pathways we walk on today. And yet, as Juliana Adelman explores in this book, there are hints and traces of this animal history if we know where to look.


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West with Giraffes

By Lynda Rutledge

West with Giraffes

Why this book?

Unlike the others on my list, this book is a work of fiction. I loved this book and would go out on a limb and say it is one of the best novels I have ever read. I am still thinking about it months later! It is based on real-life events, but the author uses a fictional framework to bring the reader up close and personal with two giraffes who made an extraordinary journey across the United States during the Great Depression. I love how Lynda Rutledge uses animal history to tell a compelling story.


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