Colonizing Animals


A book launch and conversation with Dr Jonathan Saha, author of the book Colonizing Animals: Interspecies Empire in Myanmar.

17th March 2022

What was the impact of British imperialism on Myanmar’s animals? And how does our understanding of colonialism change if we understand empire as an interspecies enterprise?

In his important new book, Colonizing Animals: Interspecies Empire in Myanmar, former ISRF Fellow Dr Jonathan Saha explores how the lives of animals were irrevocably changed by British imperialism in Myanmar, while also showing how the colonial project was dependent on nonhuman creatures.

Elephants in their thousands were enlisted as labour into the timber industry. Several million cattle migrated to the deltaic rice frontier to provide plough power. Wildlife was decimated in many parts of the colony through imperial activities. Animals were also an ideological battle ground. Imperial authors viewed Burmese relationships with animals as overly sympathetic and as proof of backwardness. Anti-colonial nationalists mobilised animals as symbols in their struggles against imperialism.

Focussing particularly on the changing relationships between subaltern peoples and colonised animals, Dr Saha offers a highly innovative perspective on Myanmar’s colonial past and the transformations wrought by British imperialism – one particularly attentive to racial divisions and the rise of capitalism.

Jonathan Saha offers an overview of his book with responses from two experts on the topic: Heeral Chhabra, PhD Candidate in History, University of Delhi; and Nicolo Ludovice, a historian of animals, food and health, and Lecturer in the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong. Questions and a discussion follow, moderated by Dr Lars Cornelissen, ISRF Academic Editor.

This is the fourteenth in the ISRF’s series of Book Launches.