Moving Animals

Vanessa Bateman has a chapter in the recently published book Bellwether Histories: Animals, Humans, and US Environments in Crisis edited by Susan Nance and Jennifer Marks with University of Washington Press.

“Animal Photography and the ‘Elk Problem’ in Modern Wyoming” is openly available here.

The chapter addresses the intersections between animal photography, hunting, and conservation in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the issues surrounding the “elk problem” — the mass starvation and death of thousands of elk due to Euro-American settlement in the early 1900s. The photographic archive reveals how early forms of wildlife management served not only to advocate for the well-being of animals but also to gain control of animals for economic and political purposes.

More about the book: Bellwether Histories: Animals, Humans, and US Environments in Crisis

A multispecies history of the globalized United States, Bellwether Histories reveals how animals have been ensnared in colonialism, capitalism, and environmental destruction as human decisions created and perpetuated untenable and unequal interspecies relationships. The collection’s authors explore how people misunderstood or ignored animal crises precipitated by habitat destruction and population declines, sudden dependence on human aid, shifts from freedom to captivity, or subjection to overextended management systems.

Chapters address a range of themes, including the links between antislavery and anti-animal-cruelty advocacy; how cattle, horse, and pig behavior shaped human life and technology; and the politics of caring for and trafficking wild animals. This volume interrogates the history of animal disposability and its ideological twin in US history, human exceptionalism—the anthropocentric myth that people could harm animals without harming themselves.

Today’s mass extinctions and ecological breakdowns ensure deadly zoonotic pandemics and global warming will harass us far into the future. Bellwether Histories looks back at how animals have been warning us of our collective fate and asks why they were so seldom heard.

Edited by Susan Nance and Jennifer Marks, with additional contributions from Vanessa Bateman, Joshua Abram Kercsmar, John M. Kinder, Andrea Ringer, Mary Trachsel, and Jessica Wang.

Top: Stephen Nelson Leek, Holly [Holiday] Leek Photographing Elk on the Leek Ranch, Jackson Hole, WY, no date. Photographic print, original version glass plate negative, 16.5 × 21.6 cm. S. N. Leek Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.

Bottom: Unfolding a panorama photograph of elk feeding on the Leek Ranch (c. 1900), S. N. Leek Papers, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, May, 2023.