Cows in the Commons, Dogs on the Lawn: A History of Animals in Seattle

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Cows in the Commons, Dogs on the Lawn: A History of Animals in Seattle

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Title: Cows in the Commons, Dogs on the Lawn: A History of Animals in Seattle
Author: Brown, Frederick
Abstract: This dissertation explores the ways humans used animals to shape Seattle in its material and cultural forms, the struggles among humans about how best to incorporate animals into urban life, and animals’ own active role in the city. The power of animals in this history stems, in part, from their ability to provide three things that humans desire: materials goods, love, and prestige. Humans have considered animals to be property, companions, and symbols – creatures of economic, social, and cultural importance. Human quests for these goods have consistently resulted in struggles over three distinctions: those between human and animal, between domestic and wild, and between pet and livestock. This dissertation explores the interplay of two alternative strategies that humans adopt toward these three distinctions: treating them as strict dualisms versus considering them to be borderlands, as distinctions that are fluid and permeable. Yet it also asserts that animals have their own active role in history. It is not in isolation but in relationship with animals and the rest of nonhuman nature that humans formed plans for Seattle. Animal actions sometimes furthered and sometimes countered human projects. In this sense, it was humans and animals together who shaped the city. The dissertation begins with the encounter of Native people and newcomers in the context of the fur trade on Puget Sound in the 1830s, describing the differing conceptions of the human-animal distinction both groups held and the role domestic animals played in newcomers’ land claims. It then considers the role of the spread of livestock and the destruction of wild animals in the early history of Seattle, founded in 1851. It then takes up the role that removing first cows and then horses took in making neighborhoods urban and middle-class and the city modern in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Finally, it describes the growing pet-livestock dichotomy, by considering both the consolidation of the livestock industry away from cities in the twentieth century and the growing importance of pets to city-dwellers in that same century.

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