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Monkeys and modernity in colonial Myanmar

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Please note that this seminar is on a Friday

Animal studies scholars have long interrogated the ways in which definitions of what it means to be human have rested upon comparisons with animal others. As this work has shown, monkeys and apes have been pivotal in the history of these definitions. The taxonomical order of primate has been a site for much discussion over the place of humans within the animal kingdom, as well as the grounds for disputes over what constitute distinctively human traits. However, these are often Eurocentric narratives which examine the intellectual debates within Natural History as they played out in imperial scientific societies, publications and research institutions. In contrast, my paper focuses instead on a colonial context, looking particularly at more ephemeral, vernacular Burmese-language texts. It explores how Burmese, British and wider understandings of monkeys intermingled in early 20th-century Myanmar. Monkeys, it will be argued, were entangled with shifting discourse on Buddhism, modernity and nationalism. By focusing on Burmese anti-colonial thought, the paper expands the ambit of animal studies scholarship and carefully attempts to better align its concerns with those of postcolonial and decolonial critique.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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