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A Victorian Parliament of Animals: or, the Biocultural as Imperial Political Form

Event Type
Center for Advanced Study
Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum
Oct 19, 2023   7:00 pm  
Antoinette Burton
Heidy Barcus
Originating Calendar
Center for Advanced Study

In this talk Antoinette Burton repurposes Samantha Frost’s definition of the biocultural for use in the context of 19th-century British imperial politics. Framing empire itself as biocultural shifts the emphasis from the fiction of humans’ sovereignty toward their interdependence with the nonhuman animal and its habitats. The Victorian “parliament of animals” archive that Burton draws on is a visual storehouse of the biocultural at work, showcasing patterns of mutuality and exchange across human and nonhuman worlds. In this rhetorical landscape, political commentators continuously figured and refigured British leaders and officials as biocultural creatures in an imperial public sphere that was decidedly interspecies. Burton asks what is at stake in devising new approaches to histories of empire which acknowledge that the biocultural was a recurrent imperial political form, one that shaped how readers a century and a half ago consumed imperial dominion--and that contributed to the ways they might have made sense of its animal aspect. 

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