We are pleased to invite you to the first History & Heritage Research Seminar for this term, taking place on Wednesday 22nd February 2017 at 4.30pm to 6.00pm.

Dr Jonathan Saha (University of Leeds) will talk about ‘Imperial elephantology: Undead capital and situated knowledge in colonial Burma’.

The rise of colonial Burma as the world’s foremost supplier of teak necessitated the employment of thousands of working elephants. Throughout the colony’s vast forests, camps were established where the animals worked to remove and transport the valuable timber. These were sites of industry and environmental transformation, but they were also sites for the generation and deployment of scientific knowledge. The semi-domesticated state of elephants employed in the teak industry made them ideal subjects for veterinary and natural historical inquiry.

In addition, the imperatives of keeping these expensive and essential labourers working efficiently and effectively meant that in the camps knowledge of elephant diseases and their treatments were much sought after. As a result, the camps were sites of medical experimentation. At the same time, the need to maintain order and discipline within the camps led to the generation of knowledge about individual elephants. An informal psychological understanding of these animals emerged from the camps through attempts to comprehend their actions. All these forms of colonial knowledge had an ambivalent relationship with Burmese understandings of the elephant, at times drawing upon these understandings and at other times denigrating them. This paper explores how the bodies and behaviours of these lively commodities, as well as the wider asymmetries of colonial power, shaped imperial elephantology.

For further information please contact Dr Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo