Whether their populations are perceived as too large, just right, too small or non-existent, animal numbers matter to the humans with whom they share environments. Animals in the right numbers are accepted and even welcomed, but when they are seen to deviate from the human-declared set point, they become either enemies upon whom to declare war or victims to be protected.
In this book, scholars investigate the ways in which the size of an animal population impacts how they are viewed by humans and, conversely, how human perceptions of populations impact animals.
Associate Professor Cushing says the idea for the book was seeded at an Australian Historical Association conference in 2016 where there was a strong animal studies strand.
“Jodi Frawley, an honorary research fellow from the University of Western Australia, and myself realised that counting animals seemed to be a popular thread and so brought together some presenter’s papers from that conference and commissioned some additional articles,” Associate Professor Cushing said.
“The book is about how humans perceive populations of animals. It’s not that they are actually always scarce or abundant, but we put our constructions on them and respond to the animals in ways that are predetermined in some sense by our preconceptions of whether there are too many of them or too few,” she said.
The book is split into five parts looking at excess, abundance, equilibrium, scarcity and extinction with amphibians, mammals, insects and fish populations put under the environmental history microscope.
Associate Professor Cushing’s University of Newcastle colleague, Dr Julie McIntyre wrote a chapter called Wine worlds are animal worlds, too, which looks at the interspecies relations in the ecologies that host vineyards.
“Animals and wine might be an unexpected combination but vineyards are a multi-species enterprise with moulds, insects and birds all living and interacting with the vines. Dr McIntyre’s chapter examines how wine makers come to terms with the implications of these things and whether they try and exclude them or poison them.”
The final chapter of the book looks at the memorialisation of animal species extinction through monuments and is written by Scandinavian scholar Dolly Jørgensen.
“This chapter was a really compelling account of how we deal with extinction and come to terms with it. We’re certainly not at the point of giving up, but we have to accept that many species are extinct and others are going to follow them and so how do we memoralise that?” Associate Professor Cushing asked.
“What Professor Jørgensen found was there are diverse ways of remembering extinct species, from the traditional stone monuments memorialising the extinction of the passenger pigeon, to museum exhibitions featuring the Tasmanian tiger, to open air sculptural monuments such as the Life Cairns in Lewes in the United Kingdom.”
Associate Professor Cushing says the book points to the importance of caution in future campaigns to manipulate animal populations, and demonstrates how approaches from the humanities can be deployed to bring fresh perspectives to understandings of how to live alongside other animals.
“The book and the field of environmental history in general is trying to put human beings back into nature and move away from this dualism that says it’s ‘us and them’, that says ‘we are culture everything else is nature’. The fact is humans cause problems and we have to fix them. We need to start to see ourselves as being interdependent with animals, and not always put our own interests first,” she concluded.