Dan Vandersommers, Assistant Professor of History at University of Dayton, USA, will discuss his book Entangled Encounters at the National Zoo: Stories from the Animal Archive (University Press of Kansas, 2023) on the Greenhouse environmental humanities book talk series on Monday, 26 August 2024, at 16:00 in Norway (10am Eastern).

Zoom link: https://us05web.zoom.us/j/86208790271?pwd=kUV8iyiGkO8ECTSc4WUvRWI91LaPEe.1

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.

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