University of Tasmania
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Figuring extinction : visualising the thylacine in zoological and natural history works, 1808-1936

posted on 2023-05-26, 19:29 authored by Carol FreemanCarol Freeman
The ability to make images allows humans to construct ideas about and positions for animals that can have devastating consequences. Little attention, however, has been paid to the affect of representations on animals that have subsequently become extinct. For instance, while a number of studies agree that the thylacine ‚ÄövÑvÆ a shy carnivorous marsupial with a striped back, a coughing bark and a pouch was hunted to extinction on the island of Tasmania, none focus on the role of zoological illustrations in shaping false perceptions of the species. This thesis, then, aims to identify the ideas constructed by these images and examine how the attitudes they produce relate to the thylacine's extinction. I analyse over 80 engravings, lithographs and photographs published in Europe and Australia before 1936, when the last thylacine in captivity died in a Tasmanian zoo. I track changes in the images, expose the implicit messages they project, reveal how science constructed authoritative ideas about the species, and examine how image and text interact to generate particular suggestions. I also discuss the techniques and assumptions associated with different media, the economic and political factors that contributed to the production and dissemination of illustrations, and the influence of new scientific theories on ideas about extinction. I argue that visualising the thylacine rests on an 'economy of value': the species was discursively constructed in ways that evoked existing myths about predators such as the wolf, that pandered to a taste for the exotic and sensational and that specifically encouraged actions conducive to the extermination of the species. This is supported by evidence that taxidermy mounts, as well as figures in photographs, were manipulated for scientific, economic and commercial purposes; that while artists often convey sympathy toward the animal in preparatory drawings, these signifiers are removed when they appear in published works; and, significantly, that the most negative images are in publications that had a wide circulation and are held as multiples copies in Tasmanian collections. These illustrations 'figure' the thylacine's extinction. The findings suggest that understanding the role of images in influencing attitudes toward animals is imperative if we are to resist the circumstances and actions that lead to the extinction of a species. Further focus is required, therefore, on the interactions between art and science, representations and the 'real' and between humans and animals ‚ÄövÑvÆ areas of research rarely addressed by those involved in zoology, visual culture, or wildlife conservation.


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Copyright 2005 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s). No access until 30 December 2010. Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2005. Includes bibliographical references

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