Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo
Stories from the Animal Archive
Sales Date: September 8, 2023
376 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: September 2023
- Published: September 2023
- Published: December 2023
Founded amid the urban commotion of Washington, DC, before the dawn of the twentieth century, the National Zoological Park opened to “preserve, teach, and conduct research about the animal world.” Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo is a study of this important cultural landmark from 1887 to 1920. Centered on the animals themselves, each chapter looks from a different angle at the influential science of popular zoology in order to shed new light on the complex, entangled relationships between humans and animals.
Daniel Vandersommers’s goal is twofold. First, through narrative, he shows how zoo animals always ran away from the zoo. This is meant literally—animals escaped frequently—but even more so, figuratively. Living, breathing, historical zoo animals ran away from their cultural constructions, and these constructions ran away from the living bodies they were made to represent. The author shows that the resulting gaps produced by runaway animals contain concealed, distorted, and erased histories worthy of uncovering.
Second, Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo demonstrates how the popular zoology fostered by the National Zoo shaped every aspect of American science, culture, and conservation during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Between the 1880s and World War I, as intellectuals debated Darwinism and scientists institutionalized the laboratory, zoological parks suddenly appeared at the heart of nearly every major American city, captivating tens of millions of visitors. Vandersommers follows stories previously hidden within the National Zoo in order to help us reconsider the place of zoos and their inhabitants in the twenty-first century.
“Deeply researched, marvelously insightful, and delightfully absorbing, Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo examines the complexities and contradictions inherent in the modern zoo. Vandersommers shows how the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park became a bustling site of wonder, entertainment, education, wildlife conservation, humane discourse, cultural advancement, civic pride, and the production and popularization of scientific and medical knowledge. At the same time, he reveals the darker side of this wildly popular and influential institution, which has embodied racist and nativist thinking, projected nationalism and imperial power, epitomized human dominion over non-humans, and been marred by the “violence of captivity” that permeates its very core. This outstanding book not only nicely captures the paradoxical, tangled layers of meaning associated with placing wildlife on public display, but also shows how zoos have come to occupy the gap between human expectations and the animals themselves.”—Mark V. Barrow Jr., author of Nature’s Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology
Introduction: At the Entrance Gate
1. Origins of a National Zoo
2. Runaway Animals
3. The Crossroads of Science and Popular Culture
4. Animal Activism and the Zoo-Networked Nation
5. Zoo Conservation and Its Discontents: Chasing Bighorn Sheep
6. The Zoonotic Nature of Tuberculosis
Conclusion: The National Zoo Movement