University of Tasmania
whole_PfennigwerthStephanieClare2010_thesis.pdf (18.2 MB)

New creatures made known : (re)discovering the extinct King Island emu

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posted on 2023-05-27, 16:53 authored by Pfennigwerth, SC
Nicolas Baudin's 1801-1804 voyage of discovery to the southern lands was the only scientific expedition to collect specimens of the dwarf emu Dromaius ater, endemic to King Island, Bass Strait, Australia. The expedition's naturalist, Francois Peron, documented the only detailed description of the life history of the birds (translated here in full for the first time), and the artist Charles-Alexandre Lesueur made the only visual record of a living bird. But the King Island emu's textual, taxonomic and even taxidermic representations were confused with other species and some of their remains, scattered across Europe, are elusive. A bird collected as part of one of the most ambitious ordering enterprises in early nineteenth-century science has been more or less forgotten. This thesis recovers the natural and unnatural history of the King Island emu, a species extinct in the wild since 1805. Placing the birds at the centre of the narrative, it traces their first encounters with Europeans to their last (and lasting) confinement in the menagerie and Museum. This innovative approach is in keeping with Animal Studies, an interdisciplinary field committed to examining the relationships between human and non-human species. In recounting the birds' story, the thesis discusses the general pattern of contemporaneous scientific collecting and some of the paradoxes of the nature and history of natural history: the link between discovery and demise. Analysing a wide variety of textual records, it demonstrates how competing principles of organisation in Republican natural science, and scientific expeditions, influenced attitudes toward and understandings of the King Island emu, with material consequences for their conservation. The thesis also reveals how visual representations further contributed, albeit unwittingly, to the species' epistemological and literal extinction. While such evidence does much to expose human attitudes to animals, it also shows the ways in which animal \specimens\" far from being inert objects of subsidiary influence actually played a major role in human endeavours. Proof of the emus' life experiences written on and in their physical remains likewise provides insight into animal realities only hinted at in the human documents. The thesis thus uncovers a rich seam of alternative experience and interpretation of human and animal heritage while suggesting a rethinking of our taken-for-granted place in the hierarchy of nature."


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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2010 the author No copying until 12th April 2012. Thesis (MA)--University of Tasmania, 2010. Includes bibliographical references. Introduction -- Ch. 1. Finding -- Ch. 2. Forgetting -- Ch. 3. Recollecting -- Conclusion. Release -- Appendix. Peron's questionnaire

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