Moving Animals: A History of Science, Media and Policy in the Twentieth Century

Transporting African elephants for the Antwerp zoo [Image credit: Koninklijke Maatschappij voor Dierkunde van Antwerpen]

In the twentieth century, processes of globalization and increasing pressure on uncultivated areas have transformed humans’ relations with ‘wild’ animals. Because human and animal territorialities intersected in novel ways, life scientists and policymakers were increasingly spurred to study and manage animal mobility across the globe. Simultaneously, media representations of animals circulated at an unparalleled scale. Historians of twentieth-century globalization have so far shown little interest in undomesticated animals, focusing largely on the mobility of people, goods, resources and ideas.

This project, however, seeks to broaden our conception of globalization. Its aim is to study the changing relations of humans with undomesticated nature by foregrounding human involvement with wild animals that move (or are being moved) over great distances. ‘Moving Animals’ will analyse how the long-distance movement of ‘wild’ animals has been (1) scientifically studied, (2) culturally represented, and (3) environmentally managed throughout the 20th century. The project will analyse how animal movement has been made knowable, visible and manageable, by focusing on four main categories of animal mobility as conceptualized in the twentieth-century western world. These are respectively: (1) biological invasions, (2) reintroductions of locally extinct species, (3) seasonal migrations and (4) the trading of zoo animals. Each of these movements will be the object of a particular subproject.

The four types of animal movements will be studied through case studies, on the basis of a close-reading of archival records, published sources and semi-structured interviews. The sources will be analysed for what they describe, but also for what they do – as instruments in both conceptualizing and managing animal mobilities. ‘Moving Animals’ will help to rethink the historical periodization of globalization, and to conceptualize the extent to which it produced a ‘world nature’, in which local natures become strongly interconnected across the globe.

‘Moving Animals’ team:

Raf De Bont (principal investigator)

Simone Schleper (post-doctoral researcher)

Vincent Bijman (PhD researcher)

Monica Vasile (PhD researcher)

Jens Lachmund (co-supervisor of Vincent Bijman)

Cyrus Mody (co-supervisor of Monica Vasile)


For further information about the project, please contact Raf De Bont:

‘Moving Animals’ receives funding through a Vici Grant of the NWO.