Animals as Mediators in Network Cultures
The close interdependency of animal emissaries and new media from early European colonial encounters with the exotic to today's proliferation of animals in digital networks.
From cat videos to corporate logos, digital screens and spaces are crowded with animal bodies. In Virtual Menageries, Jody Berland examines the role of animals in the spread of global communications. Her richly illustrated study links the contemporary proliferation of animals on social media to the collection of exotic animals in the formative years of transcontinental exploration and expansion. By tracing previously unseen parallels across the history of exotic and digital menageries, Berland shows how and why animals came to bridge peoples, territories, and technologies in the expansion of colonial and capitalist cultures.
Berland's genealogy of the virtual menagerie begins in 1414 when a ruler in Bengal sent a Kenyan giraffe to join a Chinese emperor's menagerie. It maps the beaver's role in the colonial conquest of Canada and examines the appearances of animals in early moving pictures. The menagerie is reinvented for the digital age when image and sound designers use parts or images of animals to ensure the affective promise and commercial spread of an emergent digital infrastructure. These animal images are emissaries that enliven and domesticate the ever-expanding field of mediation. Virtual Menageries offers a unique account of animals and animal images as mediators that encourage complicated emotional, economic, and aesthetic investment in changing practices of connection.
“Jody Berland's fascinating new book on animals as mediators helps us to think differently about moments of technological and economic mutation. Animal scholars of all stripes, students of media and technology, and critics of neoliberalism and network culture will find much to appreciate in this insightful and original study.”
Peter Sahlins, author of 1668: The Year of the Animal in France
“Virtual Menageries presents a magisterial exposé of the historical use of nonhuman animals as mediators for human connections and exchanges. Berland implores us to rigorously question representations of other species in our digital world and to recognize and advocate for the lives of real animals in this era of mass anthropogenic animal exploitation. Through this animal-centric approach, Virtual Menageries offers one of the most exciting and crucial texts to emerge in human-animal studies over the past decade.”
Annie Potts, Head of Cultural Studies and Director of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies, Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha/University of Canterbury, Aotearoa New Zealand
“An amazing book where the virtual animals of our images find their roots in our historical encounters with animals.”
Éric Baratay, Professor of History at Université Lyon-III; author of Zoo: A History
"Virtual Menageries in an interesting and rich book that advances academic knowledge on animal mediation and in doing so demonstrates the potential that an interdisciplinary critical approach holds for looking at contemporary media phenomena, such as cats on the internet."
International Journal of Communication
"Berland's book is a wonderful opening to dive deeper in the digitalized human-animal cultures and should find its way to the bookshelves or digital databases of scholars at least from the fields of media studies, critical animal studies, postcolonial studies, or environmental humanities."
Trace: Journal for Human-Animal Studies
“Virtual Menageries brings to light that we live with a digital consciousness. We are connected with the past because of the responsibility that is in our hands and continue to maintain the menagerie whether we do so willingly or passively. We decide what to do together to maintain the future and the Anthropocene is our last chance at shifting the tides for preservation and sustainability with this knowledge. Virtual Menageries impels us to create a new framework for defining why and newly learning how we can imagine living our lives differently from viewing animal life mediologically. It is a book I recommend to anyone looking to expand from a humanist scope to one more ethically mindful and consciously awake. Liberated from the restrictions of the mere human condition and one contributing in the creation of a global paragon.”
"Virtual Menageries is a rich and intellectually invigorating book. It synthesizes scholarly seriousness with an unapologetic passion for animals and the planet. Berland effortlessly guides the reader through the thickets of forgotten histories, complex theoretical debates, and urgent ecological demands. She writes with a compelling and inspiring moral voice, making the stakes abundantly clear, and crafting a biopolitics for a world under digital capitalism. After reading this book, it will be difficult ever to look at our media environment in the same way. Students, scholars, and activists alike will find Virtual Menageries enormously rewarding. I recommend it without reservation."
Canadian Journal of Communication
"Virtual Menageries is essential reading."
PUBLIC Journal: Art Culture Ideas