Trading Animals / Animals that act. Animal-Human-Relations between the Horn of Africa, Germany and the World

Live elephants, giraffes, ostriches and dromedaries, baboons and donkey species unknown in Europe - the list of animals traded globally in the 19th century was long. In addition to the numerous animals, a wide variety of people were involved in this enterprise, which brought animals from the interior of Africa to European zoos or transported animals to other African regions to be used in colonial projects. German animal trader and trapper Josef Menges (1850-1910) was involved in this enterprise for more than thirty years, during which time he hunted, trapped, transported, and sold thousands of animals, large and small, live and dead.

This dissertation project explores the animal trade during the early 20th century, focusing on the interplay between colonial and economic forces and their influence on animal-human relationships. Employing a micro-historical approach, the study investigates the animal trade enterprise of Josef Menges as a case study. The research aims to analyze the functioning of the animal trade, the key actors involved, and the networks and practices that emerged from it. By examining these dynamics, the study sheds light on the reciprocal impact between concrete animal-human relations and the shaping of colonial power structures.

This project offers a unique perspective by emphasizing African viewpoints and incorporating African actors and their behaviors and rationales. By doing so, it broadens the scope to consider non-European perspectives and practices. This approach brings attention to the inherent power asymmetries in animal hunting and trapping, which were not always skewed exclusively in favor of Europeans. Additionally, the project focuses on the agency of animals themselves, highlighting individual animals, their specific actions, their involvement and contributions to the animal trade, as well as instances of resistance. Through this analysis, the project seeks to address the ambiguity in the project title: Animals are not only traded, they also act.

This project utilizes previously overlooked and unpublished sources, such as the travel diaries of Josef Menges and his correspondence with renowned animal trader and zoo director Carl Hagenbeck. These sources provide direct insights into the practices and actors involved in the animal trade, without editorial bias or omission of ruptures, conflicts, difficulties, or the agency of African actors and animals that were sick or resistant. The project incorporates theoretical and methodological contributions from Human-Animal Studies, expanding the concept of a history of entanglement within the framework of post-colonial studies to include the category of species. Consequently, the history of animal trafficking is approached as a complex, interconnected history, wherein not only the colonial metropolis and periphery, but also animals and humans, are analyzed on an equal analytical level.

By tackling the theoretical and methodological challenges posed by human-animal studies informed by post-colonial perspectives, this project offers a novel perspective that enriches the history of the Horn of Africa, the animal trade, and colonial history in general by incorporating an animal-historical lens.

Image: „Ausladung einer Sendung afrikanischer Thiere aus dem Schiffe „Urano“ in Triest. Nach der Natur aufgenommen von H. Leutemann.“ In: Die Gartenlaube, 1874.


(Centre for Transcultural Studies / Perthes Collection)
Forschungskolleg Transkulturelle Studien / Sammlung Perthes (Schloss Friedenstein, Pagenhaus) / Raum 0.04