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The Afterlives of Animals

A Museum Menagerie
Edited by Samuel J.M.M. Alberti

BUY Cloth · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813931678 · $39.50 · Sep 2011
BUY Ebook · 256 pp. · ISBN 9780813932088 · $18.50 · Sep 2011
BUY Paper · 256 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813933900 · $18.50 · Aug 2013

In the quiet halls of the natural history museum, there are some creatures still alive with stories, whose personalities refuse to be relegated to the dusty corners of an exhibit. The fame of these beasts during their lifetimes has given them an iconic status in death. More than just museum specimens, these animals have attained a second life as historical and cultural records. This collection of essays—from a broad array of contributors, including anthropologists, curators, fine artists, geographers, historians, and journalists—comprises short "biographies" of a number of famous taxidermized animals. Each essay traces the life, death, and museum "afterlife" of a specific creature, illuminating the overlooked role of the dead beast in the modern human-animal encounter through practices as disparate as hunting and zookeeping. The contributors offer fresh examinations of the many levels at which humans engage with other animals, especially those that function as both natural and cultural phenomena, including Queen Charlotte’s pet zebra, Maharajah the elephant, and Balto the sled dog, among others. Readers curious about the enduring fascination with animals who have attained these strange afterlives will be drawn to the individual narratives within each essay, while learning more about the scientific, cultural, and museological contexts of each subject. Ranging from autobiographical to analytical, the contributors’ varying styles make this delightful book a true menagerie.

Contributors: Samuel J. M. M. Alberti, Royal College of Surgeons * Sophie Everest, University of Manchester * Kate Foster * Michelle Henning, University of the West of England, Bristol * Hayden Lorimer, University of Glasgow * Garry Marvin, Roehampton University, London * Henry Nicholls * Hannah Paddon * Merle Patchett * Christopher Plumb, University of Manchester * Rachel Poliquin * Jeanne Robinson, Glasgow Museums * Mike Rutherford, University of the West Indies * Richard C. Sabin, Natural History Museum * Richard Sutcliffe, Glasgow Museums * Geoffrey N. Swinney, University of Edinburgh


This collection addresses an intriguing, important, and novel theme: the biographies of animals through their lives but especially after their deaths, primarily as museum specimens. This book is very original, well researched, and thought-provoking. The diverse backgrounds of the authors prove to be a real strength. From discussions of specific taxidermic practices to questions of social and cultural contexts, the reader is treated to a wealth of different insights.

Richard W. Burkhardt, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign · author of Patterns of Behavior: Konrad Lorenz, Niko Tinbergen, and the Foundation of Ethology

This book is a unique, well-researched, and timely volume that explores how the museum serves as an exemplary space for a peculiar sort of transformation, one in which dead animals become born again into the cultural lives of people. Afterlives opens up a richly cross-disciplinary context that allows for a more multifaceted consideration of the precise conditions of various species, issues, and practices concerning the spectral lives of actual dead animals in the human imagination

Susan McHugh, University of New England · author of Dog and Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines

"This well-written, heavily researched, scholarly work... [presents] wonderful biographies of these animals, highlighting people's initial bonds of fascination with them when they were alive, and the immortal juorneys of their afterlives through private and museum collections."


Alberti approaches charismatic dead megafauna on display as both scholar and practitioner - collecting and chronicling their unique stories for posterity while also looking for ways to classify, curate, and make meaning of these beastly narratives... one of [the book's] strengths is the diversity of scholarly and career backgrounds brought to bear on its inquiry. Writing from their individual disciplinary perspectives, historians, journalists, anthropologists, museum curators, and archeozoologists collectively reveal how 'many animals... refuse to be constrained by their zoological classification.’

Science Magazine

About the Author(s): 

Samuel J. M. M. Alberti, Director of Museums and Archives at the Royal College of Surgeons, is the author of Morbid Curiosities: Medical Museums in Nineteenth-Century Britain.

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