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The History of Human-Animal Relations (August 2017): Animals and the City

By J. Wendel Cox

Animals and the City

On animals and places, one of the more notable locations of inquiry has been the city. Historians have made much of the place of animals and their remove as a part of modernization, especially segregation of certain activities to distinct districts and industrial neighborhoods such as transportation, feedlots and sales, and slaughter, rendering, and tanning or other processing of animals. Perhaps overstated in the literature—ancient and medieval cities regulated the place, keeping, and disposition of animals within their bounds, too—modern cities have had a rather more complicated relationship with animals than just exclusion. An excellent example of the complex story of animals as integral to the nineteenth- and the early-twentieth-century city in the United States is Clay McShane and Joel A. Tarr’s The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century. Other excellent recent urban histories with a particular interest in animals include Michael Rawson’s Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston, which has a fascinating account of the politics of animals and Boston Common, and Catherine McNeur’s Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City.

Some of the most provocative scholarship on urban animal experience has come, not surprisingly, from a discipline concerned with space: geography. A valuable exploration of the intersection of humans, animals, and the urban environment is Julie Urbanik’s Placing Animals: An Introduction to the Geography of Human-Animal Relations. Outstanding essay collections include editors Chris Philo and Chris Wilbert’s Animal Spaces, Beastly Places: New Geographies of Human-Animal Relations, and Animal Geographies: Place, Politics, and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands, edited by Jennifer Wolch and Judy Emel. Collectively, these works challenge the very meaning of urban and rural, city and nature, and present our shared lives in cities as one of endless definition and redefinition of boundaries through encounters between species. The urban ecologist Steven DeStefano’s exquisite Coyote at the Kitchen Door: Living with Wildlife in Suburbia introduces readers to the recent history of one of the most successful urban species, the coyote. Dan Flores’s Coyote America offers historical context for the stunning revenge of one of North America’s most reviled species: not merely surviving but flourishing in ever-so-unlikely urban spaces. One of a host of works on the other canid species with a continuing history of conflict with human wishes, desires, and enterprises is Michael D. Wise’s able and insightful Producing Predators: Wolves, Work, and Conquest in the Northern Rockies. Wider in scope is Terry O’Connor’s Animals as Neighbors: The Past and Present of Commensal Species, an environmental history of animal opportunism and human society, settlement, and behavior. The bricolage in editors Gavin Van Horn and David Aftandilian’s City Creatures: Animal Encounters in the Chicago Wilderness makes this work not only of interest for its forms of expression, but also for the diversity of animal encounters in the Second City. Future historians will turn to City Creatures as a resource for perspectives on urban animals—human and non-human alike—during the early twenty-first century.