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Andrea Gaynor (2017)
The University of Western Australia
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Frog Cities: Emotion and Conservation in Urban Australia, 1900‒2010

Anthropological research has proposed that the way in which we value nature and natural things depends largely on the way they make us feel; yet there is little detailed historical research exploring changing patterns of emotional engagement with nature. Taking human encounters with frogs as its focus, this project does exactly that.

Leonard J Matthews Macro of Frog.jpg

In environmental histories, humans tend to appear as purposeful actors, pillaging and transforming nature or representing and working to protect it, with rational motivations ranging from the economic to ideological. While emotions have been a strong undercurrent in the work of several leading environmental historians, rarely has the part played by emotions in changing human-nature relationships been a central object of environmental historical analysis. Taking cues from approaches emerging out of environmental humanities, cultural geography and anthropology, this project seeks to produce an environmental history of one aspect of the more-than-human cities of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Australia that will help to advance a more theoretically-grounded understanding of the role of emotions in historical-environmental change.

The project explores how conservation developed as an emotional practice in twentieth- and twenty-first-century urban Australia, by focusing on the changing emotional dimensions of human encounters with frogs. Taking an approach informed by practice theory, this focused case study will examine how the social and environmental context of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Australian cities produced bodies conditioned to respond emotionally in certain ways to particular forms of nature encountered in urban settings. A range of textual and oral historical sources will be read closely for evidence of urban residents doing emotion in encounters with frogs; for descriptions of bodily experiences and expressions, for example, of disgust, surprise and sadness. Rather than attempt a survey history, the research will focus on evidence of particular events calling up conditioned emotions across my time span. It will then trace and account for changing emotional expressions, particularly interrogating the rise of frog conservation as an emotional practice.


Image: Leonard J Matthews ‘Macro of Frog’, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0