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Monkeys and Modernity in Colonial Myanmar

Fri, March 17, 12:45 to 2:45pm, Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel, Floor: Lower Concourse, Grand Ballroom West

Abstract

Animal studies scholars have long interrogated the ways in which definitions of what it means to be human have rested upon comparisons with animal others. As this work has shown, monkeys and apes have been pivotal in the history of these definitions. The taxonomical order of primate has been a site for much debate over the place of humans within the animal kingdom, as well as the grounds for disputes over what constitute distinctively human traits. However, these are often Eurocentric narratives which examine the intellectual histories of zoological ideas as they played out in imperial scientific societies, publications and research institutions. In contrast, my paper focuses instead on a colonial context. It will explore how Burmese, British and wider understandings of monkeys intermingled in early twentieth-century Myanmar. Monkeys, it will be argued, were entangled with discussions of Buddhism, modernity and nationalism. By focusing on anti-colonial Burmese publications, the paper expands the remit of animal studies scholarship and carefully attempts to better align its concerns with those of postcolonial and decolonial critique.

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