Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots

Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots : Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century Paris

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In 1775, a visitor to Laurent Spinacuta's Grande Menagerie at the annual winter fair in Paris would have seen two tigers, several kinds of monkeys, an armadillo, an ocelot, and a condor-in all, forty-two live animals. In Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots, Louise Robbins explains that exotic animals from around the world were common in eighteenth-century Paris. In the streets of the city, residents and visitors could observe performing elephants and a fighting polar bear. Those looking for unusual pets could purchase parrots, flying squirrels, and capuchin monkeys. The royal menagerie at Versailles displayed lions, cranes, an elephant, a rhinoceros, and a zebra, which in 1760 became a major court attraction. For Enlightenment-era Parisians, exotic animals both piqued scientific curiosity and conveyed social status. Their availability was a boon for naturalists like Buffon, author of the best-selling Histoire naturelle, who observed unusual species in a variety of locations around the city.
Louis XVI saw his menagerie as a manifestation of his power and funded its upkeep accordingly, while critics used the caged animals as metaphors of slavery and political oppression amidst the growing political turmoil. In her engaging and often surprising account, Robbins considers nearly every aspect of France's obsession with exotic fauna, from the vast literature on exotic animals and the inner workings of the oiseleurs' (birdsellers') guild to how the animals were transported, housed, and cared for. Based on wide-ranging and imaginative research, Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots stands as a major contribution to the history of human-animal relations, eighteenth-century culture, and French colonialism.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 368 pages
  • 152 x 229 x 30mm | 726g
  • Baltimore, MD, United States
  • English
  • 3 Line drawings, black and white; 29 Halftones, black and white
  • 0801867533
  • 9780801867538
  • 85,440

Table of contents

Contents: List of Illustrations and Tables Acknowledgments Introduction Chapter 1: Live Cargo Chapter 2: The Royal Menagerie Chapter 3: Fairs and Fights Chapter 4: The Oiseleurs' Guild Chapter 5: Pampered Parrots Chapter 6: Animals in Print Chapter 7: Elephant Slaves Chapter 8: Vive la Liberte Epilogue Abbreviations List of Primary Resources Bibliographical Essay Index
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Review quote

It is both amusing and disturbing to read of people's bizarre interactions with animals in 18th-century France... Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots conveys the joy and wonder Parisians reaped from the monkeys and elephants frolicking around in their society. As Robbins points out, lurking beneath is the animals' profound exploitation: their torturous importation from their native climes; their high mortality rates on the way to France (many died of maltreatment aboard ship; others, if food supplies ran low, simply became dinner); their minimally competent care is they happened to arrive in Paris intact. -- Randy Malamud Chronicle of Higher Education A lively glimpse of 18th-century Paris's infatuation with exotic animals. Here is a genuine labor of love, not merely synthesizing what has already been published, but the result of an apparently exhaustive culling of Parisian archives... What exotic animals 18th-century Parisians saw and owned, how they got there, what the locals made of them, how they influenced fashion, are all well described in Louise Robbins's fascinating book. -- Herman Reichenbach International Zoo News This book adds a new dimension to our understanding of eighteenth-century France by investigating the provenance, treatment, and fate of exotic animals living in Paris in the 1700s. Attentive to the minutiae of everyday life as well as to long-term changes in the Parisian mentalite, Louise E. Robbins studies such creatures in order to show that human history is inseparable from that of the animals living in our midst... A signal contribution. Free of the jargon that plagues much historiography, this study is accessible to the specialist and the general reader alike. -- Julia V. Douthwaite American Historical Review A delightful tour of the world of exotic animals in eighteenth-century Paris... Robbins sketches a striking picture of what the public might have seen by using handbills, police records, and natural history texts. She has been resourceful. In her research, for example, she uncovered a trove of documents relating to the oiseleur's guild. Although small and generally unknown, the guild's history allows us a detailed glimpse into the bird trade (and trade in other animals, as well)... A welcome addition to the literature on eighteenth-century Paris and to our understanding of what animals meant to the people of that city. -- Paul Lawrence Farber Journal of the History of Biology A closely researched account, richly illustrated with material drawn from the contemporary press and archives, of the material and cultural presence of a range of exotic creatures imported into Paris... An exemplary historical account of the domestication of the exotic, cataloging the specific workings of such a process at a given historical moment. -- Charles Forsdick Journal of Romance Studies Robbins's book... highlights a neglected area of social and scientific historical writing. Notable is a deft use of a delicious variety of primary sources ranging from ships logs and personal correspondence of the French crown with its scattered agents to prints circulated among the Parisians and entries in tomes as formidable as the 1765 Encyclopedie... An unusual and fascinating piece of scholarship. -- Robert B. Ridinger E-Streams Using an impressively broad range of sources, Robbins gives a comprehensive account of the many unlikely spaces (literal and figurative) occupied by exotic animals in eighteenth-century Paris. From travelers' descriptions and aristocrats' memoirs, Robbins culls stories of the princesse de Chimay's pet monkey and of the seal loveingly exhibited by a fairground entrepreneur; from police reports, she traces the workings of the Paris bird-sellers' guild; from the colonial archives (and those of the king's menagerie), she charts the routes of African, Asian, and American animals on their way to the French capital... In short, Robbins' book is the product of research that was thorough and thoughtful. -- Rebecca L. Spang H-France Book Reviews Solid and engaging, this book is thoroughly satisfying in its fresh approach to eighteenth-century society. -- Mary Beth Decatur VIII: New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots has rightly attracted plaudits for its richness and the fascinating subject-the multifarious worlds of animal trading and keeping in eighteenth-century Paris-which the author treats in extensive and well-researched detail... The book is an enjoyable read, well written and thorough, and undoubtedly contributes much to our understanding of a subject about which little was previously known. -- E. C. Spary British Journal for the History of Science Elephant Slaves and Pampered Parrots is a job very well done. Robbins forcefully uses her sources of diaries, letters, and not least newspapers to drive home the importance of exotic animals in eitheenth-century French imagination... All in all, this book is a delight to read with well-chosen illustrations -- Sofia Akerberg Environmental History 2003 Caged animals could stand in metaphorically not only for slaves but also for victims of royal despotism... It is in showing how ubiquitous such discourses were and how central exotic animals were to them that this well-researched, witty, and thoroughly enjoyable book make its major contribution. -- Cissie Fairchilds Journal of Social History 2004 A captivating book that is not only impreccably researched but also eloquently written. -- Dorothee Brantz Journal of Modern History 2005 Let me stress that although Robbins' book is lots of fun to read, it is also meticulously researched and cogently argued... Do read this book; you will enjoy it and learn a lot. -- Jean Perkins Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer 2010
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About Louise E. Robbins

Louise E. Robbins is an independent scholar and an editor at Cornell University Press. She has a doctorate in history of science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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Rating details

7 ratings
4.28 out of 5 stars
5 29% (2)
4 71% (5)
3 0% (0)
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