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“Ask of the Beasts and They Shall Teach Thee”

Animal Representations in Bristol Zoo Guidebooks

Andrew Flack and Sarah Joy Maddeaux


People have been visiting zoos to look at non-human animals for almost two centuries. They observe a real animal, but what they see in their mind’s eye could be informed by how the animal is represented in the zoo’s guidebooks. Representations are rooted in two ways of looking: one positions the animal as an object of scientific study representative of his or her species, the other turns him or her into an individual animal with a life framed in terms of human experiences. Bristol Zoo Gardens, opened in 1836, offers a rich case study of the value of guidebooks because of its long history and surviving sources. The article begins by highlighting the theoretical approach adopted before applying it by reviewing the objectification and anthropomorphism of different animals over the chronological range of guidebooks. It then interrogates the depiction of gender roles to illuminate this style of representation.