ASEH 2013: International Perspectives on Urban Animals in the Nineteenth Century

Frozen pigs, St. Anne’s Market, Montreal, QC, about 1870. Source: McCord Museum, MP-0000.1828.82

Animal history will be well-represented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Environmental History this week in Toronto. If you are already interested in attending the Saturday morning panel, “Controlling Animals? Human and Animal Agency in North America” featuring Susan Nance, Jessica Wang, Jennifer Bonnell, and Tina Adcock, I would encourage readers to join us in the afternoon for our panel on urban animals titled “International Perspectives on Urban Animals in the Nineteenth Century.”

This Saturday, April 6th from 3:30pm to 5:00pm in the Quebec Room at the Royal York Hotel, I will be presenting research from my current project on the history of animals in Canadian cities alongside Andrew Robichaud (Stanford University), Catherine McNeur (New York Historical Society and the New School), and Chris Pearson (University of Liverpool). Here are the details on our panel:

Saturday, April 6, 2013
3:30pm to 5:00pm
Quebec Room


This panel examines the role of domestic animals in nineteenth-century urban environments from an international perspective, including case studies from Canada, the United States, and France. Industrialization and urban development in the nineteenth century transformed cities in North America and Western Europe, creating environments with very dense populations of humans. These cities, however, were not exclusively human habitats. Instead, industrial cities emerged as multi-species habitats in which humans and non-human animals not only co-existed, but were interdependent. The papers in this panel explore the different ways in which non-human domestic animals were co-actors in industrial urbanization in the nineteenth century. The case studies include an examination of the spatial dimensions of the regulation of animals in San Francisco from 1860 to 1900, public health controversies and city politics in New York relating to the keeping of pigs and cows in the 1850s, the spread of equine influenza in Canadian and US urban centres during the Great Epizootic of 1872-73, and the complicated relationship between Parisian police and dogs in fin-de-siècle France. Each paper speaks directly to the broader conference theme of “Confluences, Crossings, and Power” as they look at the boundaries between peoples, species, and cultures in urban environments.


Andrew Robichaud, “Making and Remaking Animal Space in San Francisco, 1860-1900”

From 1860 to 1900, amid a surge of urbanization, American cities sought to radically remake urban space through a series of new regulations aimed at urban animal populations. This paper traces the spatial changes in animal populations in San Francisco from 1860 to 1900, focusing on the creation of new spaces within that city for certain domesticated and semi-domesticated species. New regulations on animals came, most notably, from two emergent organizations with vast powers: the city’s Department of Health, and the private police force imbedded in the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Combined with new commercial pressures, these organizations helped shape where and how animals lived out their lives in San Francisco, changing the lives of animals, and the relationships between people and animals, in profound ways.

Through GIS mapping of animal businesses, animal laws, and animal enforcement patterns, this paper seeks answers to a few major questions: What spaces did certain animals inhabit in San Francisco? How and why did the spatial extent of certain species and animal businesses change over time? And, finally, how did various organizations police animals across real space?

Catherine McNeur, “Hog Wash and Swill Milk: Corrupt Politics and Urban Animals in 1850s New York City”

There were two well-publicized campaigns against urban animals in New York City during the middle of the nineteenth century.  One focused on the pigs kept in pens on the outskirts of the city and the other targeted the cows housed in sheds near distilleries.  Both sets of animals were an important food source for lower-class New Yorkers looking for inexpensive pork, beef, and milk.  The animals, housed close to the city, were fed food waste in the form of kitchen scraps, offal, or the swill left over from the process of distilling liquor.  The proximity of these animals to city residents paired with the threat of corrupt food, unsanitary conditions, and unwholesome smells fueled newspaper exposés that pressured the municipal government to evict New York’s livestock and take control of the quality of urban food. Politicians did not treat the hogs and cows equally, however, and this paper will address the reasons behind this disparity.  While the piggeries were destroyed in the dramatic “Piggery War” of 1859, swill milk remained an issue through the end of the nineteenth century.  This paper will look at the connections between corrupt food, corrupt politics, and the treatment of urban livestock.

Sean Kheraj, “The 1872-73 Canadian Horse Distemper”

In early October 1872, a mysterious illness swept through the urban horse population of Toronto. The Globe first reported the phenomenon on 5 October 1872, noting that “[f]or some time past a large number of horses in the city have been affected with disease of the respiratory organs, but during the present week another disease has prevailed to an alarming extent among the horses in this district.” Horse owners and other observers were perplexed and assumed the disease to be a “catarrhal fever.” Horses throughout the city suffered from sore throats and hacking coughs which kept them from working for up to two weeks. It was, as Dr. Andrew Smith from the Ontario Veterinary College wrote, a “considerable loss and annoyance to owners of horses and to the community generally.”

The outbreak of disease among the horses of Toronto in the autumn of 1872 was the beginning of a continent-wide pandemic known as “The Great Epizootic.” Following the events in Toronto, the disease spread throughout North America from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts and into parts of Central America, reaching as far south as Nicaragua. This paper will trace the origins of this disease, eventually thought to be a virulent strain of equine influenza, and its impact on urban life in North America in 1872-73 as it spread outward from Toronto to nearly all of the major cities of North America, including Montreal, Chicago, New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Galveston, and San Francisco. The Great Epizootic not only illustrated the centrality of domestic animals to the functioning of nineteenth-century North American cities, but it also demonstrated that these cities, which were multi-species habitats, generated unique ecological conditions and a networked disease pool capable of producing animal disease environments that were distinctly urban in character.

Chris Pearson, “Securing the City: The Police and their Dogs in fin-de-siècle Paris

The Parisian police force experienced a complex and contradictory relationship with Paris’s dogs in the fin-de-siècle period. Having spent much of the nineteenth-century combating stray dogs and fighting the perceived threat of canine-borne rabies, Paris’s police force began to train dogs for specialized police work. This was a time of increased professionalization of police in Paris. A training school opened in 1883 to teach recruits about crowd dispersal, first aid and how to behave so that they would ‘merit the esteem of everyone by the order and dignity of their private lives and their conduct.’ The police also developed new crime detection techniques based on finger-printing, centralized record-keeping and photography. They introduced more specialist units, such as a river brigade team in 1900, and by 1909 all police stations were linked by telephone. The training and deployment of dog teams to fight crime was part of this process at a time when bourgeois Paris was seemingly threatened by roaming ‘Apache’ gangs.

Based on detailed archival research in Paris’s police archives and analyses of training manuals and newspaper reports, this paper will explore the police’s mobilization of dogs and its public reception, as well as their campaigns against stray dogs. It will argue that these contradictory attitudes towards dogs can be explained by the desire to secure the city from the interlinked threats of disease, crime and disorder, which seemingly threatened the health and security of Paris. As part of a wider project on dogs and the making of modern cities, this paper aims to make a contribution to urban history, animal studies, and the environmental history of cities. It also shows how the state-building of the modern period was a ‘more-than-human’ process that involved animals as well as humans.

To find out more about all the panels at this year’s American Society for Environmental History annual meeting in Toronto, visit

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