Reading Zoos in the Age of the Anthropocene

Workshop 1: World – War – Zoo

Pride of Baghdad. Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon. Vertigo, 2013.


In his lectures on air war and literature, published in English under the revealing title On the Natural History of Destruction, W.G. Sebald cites various accounts of the destruction of the Berlin Zoo under the Allied bombing, and the fate of the animals there. Sebald suggests that “these images of horror” are so powerful because they remind us that zoos, which “owe their existence to a desire to demonstrate princely or imperial power, are at the same time supposed to be a kind of imitation of the Garden of Eden.” This peculiar combination of political and religious symbolism—the ruins of empire and the loss of innocence—allows the zoo to serve as a powerful “material-semiotic node” (Haraway) for reflecting on history and violence in a more-than-human sense, including the “slow violence” (Nixon) of climate change and extinction. It is striking that the “zoo-in-wartime” has become a recurring motif in literature, film and other media over the past two decades, i.e. seemingly in tandem with the discourse on the Anthropocene. This workshop seeks to explore the critical potential of this motif as well as its limitations and pitfalls when it comes to thinking about the destruction of the natural world. How can the zoo in wartime serve as a focal point that brings together discourses on (neo-)colonialism, imperialism, racism, and speciesism? And to what extent can this motif serve to obscure or distract from complexities and inequalities by potentially reinstating a monolithic human-animal binary, which these discourses are working to undermine?

Workshop Programme

Wednesday 3 April – Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, van Ravensteynzaal

13.30–14.00: Welcome & Introductions

14.00–15.30 SESSION 1: Reading Zoos, Reading War
Kári Driscoll (Utrecht)

15.30–16.00 Coffee

16.00–18.00 Session 2: Facing Zoo History
Clemens Maier-Wolthausen (Berlin)

19.00 Dinner

Thursday 4 April – Drift 23, room 104

9.30–10.00 Coffee

10.00–12.30 SESSION 3: The Natural History of Destruction
Erik de Jong (Amsterdam) | Yogi Hale Hendlin (Rotterdam)

12.30–14.00 Lunch

14.00–16.30 SESSION 4: Refuge & Resilience
Marianna Szczygielska (Berlin) | Mieke Roscher (Kassel)

16.30–17.00 Coffee

17.15–19.00 PUBLIC KEYNOTE:

“Berlin Zoo under the Sign of the Swastika: Animals, Ideology, and the Politics of Memory”
Clemens Maier-Wolthausen (Berlin)

19.00 Dinner

Friday 5 April – Drift 21, room 104

9.30–10.00 Coffee

10.00–12.00 SESSION 5: The Zoopoetics of Space
Esther Köhring (Frankfurt) | Dominic O’Key (Leeds)

12.00–13.00 Lunch

13.00–15.00 SESSION 6: World – War – Zoo
Kári Driscoll (Utrecht)

15.15–16.00 Conclusion & Future Plans

The workshop participants at dinner. From left: Ruth Clemens, Kári Driscoll, Terezie Štindlová, Mieke Roscher, Mareike Vennen, Esther Köhring, Yogi Hale Hendlin, Marianna Szczygielska, Clemens Maier-Wolthausen, Dominic O’Key

From left: Marianna Szczygielska, Mareike Vennen, Terezie Štindlová, Esther Köhring, Dominic O’Key, Mieke Roscher