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Putting animals on display: geographies of taxidermy practice

Patchett, Merle Marshall (2010) Putting animals on display: geographies of taxidermy practice. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Taxidermy specimens and displays have become increasingly liminal features in contemporary society. Viewed variously as historical curios, obsolete relics or more malignantly as ‘monstrosities’, they can be a source of discomfort for many. Taxidermy objects have become uncomfortable reminders of past scientific and colonial practices which have sought to capture, order and control animated life and as such have become increasingly problematic items for their owners. As a result many taxidermy displays have been dismantled and mounts relegated to ‘backstores’ to gather dust. The paradox is that taxidermy as a practice is a quest for ‘liveness’, to impute life back into the dead. Much like the taxidermist, my goal in this thesis is to revive and restore: to renew interest in and reassert the value of taxidermy collections by recovering what I shall term as the ‘biogeographies’ of their making and continued maintenance. Considerable academic attention has been paid to the ‘finished’ form and display of taxidermy specimens inside cabinets, behind glass – in other words, to their representation. By way of contrast, this thesis recovers the relationships, practices and geographies that brought specimens to their state of enclosure, inertness and seeming fixity. These efforts are aligned with work in cultural geography seeking to counteract ‘deadening effects’ in an active world through a prioritisation of practice (Dewsbury and Thrift 2000), and elsewhere draw on research arguments and approaches originating in historical geography, and the history of science. The thesis firstly investigates historical developments in the scientific and craft practice of taxidermy through the close study of period manuals, combined with ethnographic observations of a practicing taxidermist. Critical attention to practice then facilitates the recovery of the lifeworlds of past taxidermy workshops and the globally sited biogeographies behind the making of individual specimens and collections. The thesis required the purposeful assemblage and rehabilitation of diffuse zoological and historical remains to form unconventional archives, enabling a series of critical reflections on the scientific, creative and political potentials of taxidermy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: animal remains, taxidermy practice, non-representational theory, creative archiving, zoological collections, biogeography, craftsmanship
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
T Technology > TT Handicrafts Arts and crafts
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Geographical and Earth Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Hayden, Dr. Lorimer and Chris, Prof. Philo
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: Dr Merle M Patchett
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-2348
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:54
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/2348

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