Not all city dwellers are bipedal, according to Frederick L. Brown, author of The City is More Than Human: An Animal History of Seattle
(University of Washington Press, 2016). The history of Seattle, and all cities, is as much about its non-human inhabitants as its human ones, argues Brown, an independent scholar working on a contractual basis with the National Park Service. Salish-speaking people, the earliest inhabitants of the Puget Sound, had myriad relationships with animals. They thought of them as important symbols and as spiritual guides, and used them as a critical resource base. The species of animals living around the Puget Sound changed with European arrival and conquest, but the complicated relationships they had with humans did not. Cattle, horses, mountain lions, dogs, and salmon, all meant different things to different people at different times. Brown tracks these changes in use and attitude and argues that our perception of animals is shaped by the paradox of the pet food dish. The bowl we put out for our cats and dogs, Brown says, is an enduring symbol of our fraught relationship to creatures we by turns, eat, ignore, or love, depending on the context and the species in question. The history of the human city is indeed much more than a human history.
Stephen Hausmann is a doctoral candidate at Temple University and Visiting Instructor of history at the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently writing his dissertation, a history of race and the environment in the Black Hills and surrounding northern plains region of South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana.