In Imperial Creature: Humans and Other Animals in Colonial Singapore, 1819-1942 (
National University of Singapore Press, 2019), Timothy Barnard
explores the more-than-human entanglements between empires and the creatures they govern. What is the relationship between the subjugation of human communities and that of animals? How did various interactions with animals enable articulations of power between diverse peoples? This book is one of the first to tackle these questions in the context of a Southeast Asian colonial city.
Drawing from rich, archival material and with an attentiveness to visual sources, this study analyses the varied and messy positioning of animals in a city – as sources of protein, vectors of disease, cherished pets and impressed labor. The book’s deliberate focus on everyday animals such as dogs and horses – common in growing cities worldwide at the time – connects the history of colonial Singapore to a broader urban history, addressing what modernity means in terms of human-animal relationships. In our conversation, we discuss more-than-human-imperialism, the question of animal agency, the performative aspects of animal welfare and a few exciting, related reading recommendations by the author.
Faizah Zakaria is an Assistant Professor of History at Nanyang Technological University. She is completing her first monograph on dialectical relationships between landscape and religious conversions in maritime Southeast Asia. You can find her website here or on Twitter @laurelinarien