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The Bison in the Room: Taxidermy, Empire and Gender Performance on the American Frontier, 1865-1895

Jones, Karen R. (2023) The Bison in the Room: Taxidermy, Empire and Gender Performance on the American Frontier, 1865-1895. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, . ISSN 0308-6534. (In press) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:101892)

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This article explores the relationship between outdoor sports and the age of empire on the American frontier using the lens of gender performance. Focused on the years from the mid to the late nineteenth century, it provides an exploration of hunting as a vector of imperial masculine journey and a physical and imaginative pursuit where hunters stalked and shot the iconic animals of the western states on behalf of settler colonialism. In the first part of the paper, contemporary testimonies are used to plot the ways in which hunting desires to own the animal body fuelled a powerful homosocial culture grounded in ideas of primal pageantry. Sport and game in this context represented essential elements of a performative leisure economy in which pursuit and capture dictated the terms of human-animal engagement and refracted broader impositions of colonial political authority. From here, it turns to dynamics of community on the game trail where the primacy of the sporting hero was confirmed and recalibrated along racial, class and gender lines, before travelling indoors to examine how the afterlife of the hunt (expressed in taxidermy) allowed the authority of the victorious hunter to be performed in the ‘great indoors’ and for colonial claims over space to be materially and symbolically affirmed. Today, the stories of the imperial hunter elite and their taxidermy trophies represent traumatic historical artefacts. However, they also denote important remnants of empire whose complicated provenance helps to explain how mutually supportive mechanisms of masculinity and colonialism operated to sanction the killing and (later) the conservation of game species. Offering a closer look at ‘the bison in the room’ and its embodied story of pursuit and capture, this paper provides valuable insights into the dynamics of sport in colonial space and the value of performance as a useful category for contextualising human-environmental relations in the age of empire.

Item Type: Article
Additional information: For the purpose of open access, the author has applied a CC BY public copyright licence to any Author Accepted Manuscript version arising from this submission.
Uncontrolled keywords: Hunting, Masculinity, Empire, Animals, Sport, Outdoors, American West; Frontier
Subjects: D History General and Old World
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Funders: Arts and Humanities Research Council (
Depositing User: Karen Jones
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2023 09:16 UTC
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2023 15:21 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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