Zoological Gardens

Zoological Gardens
   Initially private menageries of the royal and wealthy, later public parks devoted to the amusement and education of the metropolitan populace on the one hand and the scientific study of animal species on the other. This was in part the product of political change—the Jardin des Plantes Zoological Gardens incorporated the surviving animals of the Versailles menagerie in 1793 in the wake of France’s revolutionary upheaval—but it was equally influenced by the expansion of European colonial empires in the second half of the nineteenth century.
   In some instances colonial administrators had a direct hand in the process. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles indulged a personal love of natural history by developing a vast collection of anthropological, botanical, and zoological specimens and was a cofounder of the Zoological Society of London at the comparatively early date of 1826. Zoos were also about prestige, a showcase for the exotica of empire. King William IV identified the Zoological Society in 1831 as symbolic of Britain’s international position. Mid-century Europe also experienced a new interest in “ acclimatization,” the transplanting of organisms to different locations for the purpose of developing the abilities of species to perpetuate themselves in radically different conditions, which, for France and Britain in particular, flourished in overseas settler colonies pursuing protectionist programs of economic development. At the darkest end of the scientific and moral spectrum was the phenomenon of the human zoo popularized between the 1870s and World War I, in which the indigenous peoples of overseas colonies were displayed much like caged animals.
    Hoage, R. J., and William A. Deiss, eds. New Worlds, New Animals: From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the Nineteenth Century . Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996;
    Osborne, Michael A. Nature, the Exotic, and the Science of French Colonialism . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994;
    Ritvo, Harriet. The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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