Among the Beasts of Burma: Animals and the Politics of Colonial Sensibilities, 1850-1940

Jonathan Saha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)
451 Downloads (Pure)


According to imperial writings, the Burmese were too close to animals, both physically and emotionally. It was claimed that some Burmese people had innate connections to animals, notably elephant-drivers with their elephants. British writers were also intrigued but disgusted by what they deemed to be inappropriate interactions with animals, recounting apocryphal tales of women breastfeeding orphaned non-human mammals. But despite these negative portrayals of human-animal relations, imperial texts also betray their authors' own material and sentimental ties to animals. Their adoration of their pets and their sufferance of pests both served to embed them in the colony. Using insights drawn from animal history, sensory history, postcolonial theory and historical geography, this article explores how these felt encounters with animals were mediated in colonial discourse. I argue that uncovering these hitherto overlooked affective colonial relationships with animals is necessary to contextualize histories that have primarily focused on the emergence of scientific and bureaucratic imperial representations of nature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)910-932
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Social History
Issue number4
Early online date21 Apr 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015


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