Wild animals have fascinated human observers since time immemorial. The story of our interest in collecting, classifying and dominating Nature looms large; thus it is surprising that the history of menageries, zoological gardens and zoos as we know them today has been so poorly documented. This gap is addressed by Zoo.
In the Renaissance, wealthy aristocrats showcased exotic beasts in private menageries. Safely caged, animals inspired the interest of naturalists and fed the curiosity of the masses. By the 19th century, increased urbanization and colonization aided the expansion of zoos in which animals were tamed to serve as domesticated livestock. Nowadays, with many natural habitats under threat of extinction, the social function of zoos is less clear. Such institutions both present the illusion of wild animals in a natural state to a nostalgic public and find themselves justifying their existence as saviors of endangered species.
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Eric Baratay is Senior Lecturer in History at the Université Jean-Moulin, Lyon.
Elisabeth Hardouin-Fugier is Professor of Art History at the Université Jean-Moulin, Lyon. She is the author of many books, including A History of French Still Life in the Nineteenth Century (1998).
While the publisher has billed this book as "the first "to document the changing nature of zoos in Europe and North America and to access the factors contributing to these changes," it has been preceded by several other similar works: Jake Page's Zoo: The Modern Ark, Vicki Croke's The Modern Ark: A Story of Zoos Past, Present and Future, and the four-volume Encyclopedia of the World's Zoos. So, why would anyone be interested in this new volume? The answer lies in the scope and depth of scholarly research and presentation and in the 400 illustrations (150 of which are in color) that aren't likely to be found elsewhere. While other books look at the architecture of zoos and the care of animals in captivity, the authors, who are French professors of history and art history, respectively, take a social history focus, examining how people view wild animals and how that has changed over time. Their book has five main sections, with the first three forming the core of the text "The Passion for Collecting (1500s to 1700s)," "The Need for Control (1800s)," and "The Yearning for Nature (1900s)." The final two sections "Zoos Through the Ages," and "Artists and the Zoo" consist entirely of illustrations. One can read the text or spend hours simply enjoying the images. Libraries that have other titles on zoos will still want to purchase this. Highly recommended. Edell M. Schaefer, Brookfield P.L., WI
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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