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Figuring extinction : visualising the thylacine in zoological and natural history works, 1808-1936

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Freeman, CJ (2005) Figuring extinction : visualising the thylacine in zoological and natural history works, 1808-1936. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

The ability to make images allows humans to construct ideas about and positions for animals
that can have devastating consequences. Little attention, however, has been paid to the affect of
representations on animals that have subsequently become extinct. For instance, while a number
of studies agree that the thylacine — a shy carnivorous marsupial with a striped back, a coughing
bark and a pouch was hunted to extinction on the island of Tasmania, none focus on the role of
zoological illustrations in shaping false perceptions of the species. This thesis, then, aims to
identify the ideas constructed by these images and examine how the attitudes they produce relate
to the thylacine's extinction.
I analyse over 80 engravings, lithographs and photographs published in Europe and Australia
before 1936, when the last thylacine in captivity died in a Tasmanian zoo. I track changes in the
images, expose the implicit messages they project, reveal how science constructed authoritative
ideas about the species, and examine how image and text interact to generate particular
suggestions. I also discuss the techniques and assumptions associated with different media, the
economic and political factors that contributed to the production and dissemination of
illustrations, and the influence of new scientific theories on ideas about extinction.
I argue that visualising the thylacine rests on an 'economy of value': the species was
discursively constructed in ways that evoked existing myths about predators such as the wolf,
that pandered to a taste for the exotic and sensational and that specifically encouraged actions
conducive to the extermination of the species. This is supported by evidence that taxidermy
mounts, as well as figures in photographs, were manipulated for scientific, economic and
commercial purposes; that while artists often convey sympathy toward the animal in preparatory
drawings, these signifiers are removed when they appear in published works; and, significantly,
that the most negative images are in publications that had a wide circulation and are held as
multiples copies in Tasmanian collections. These illustrations 'figure' the thylacine's
extinction.
The findings suggest that understanding the role of images in influencing attitudes toward
animals is imperative if we are to resist the circumstances and actions that lead to the extinction
of a species. Further focus is required, therefore, on the interactions between art and science,
representations and the 'real' and between humans and animals — areas of research rarely
addressed by those involved in zoology, visual culture, or wildlife conservation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Natural history, Rare animals, Thylacine
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2005 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

No access until 30 December 2010. After that date, available for use in the Library and copying in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968, as amended. Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 2005. Includes bibliographical references

Date Deposited: 09 Dec 2014 00:10
Last Modified: 15 Mar 2016 22:50
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