Until the advent of steam and later the internal combustion engine, the fortunes of man and beast were intimately and essentially bound together. Animals played a variety of fundamental roles in a range of human work and leisure activities such as transport, agriculture, industry, warfare, sport and recreation. Their importance to human progress has become increasingly hard to grasp for our largely urbanized society, from which the animal world has become ever more remote.
Animal Encounters draws on the author’s lifetime interest in the fields of art history, topographical literature, archaeology, history and archaeozoology to provide an overview of the evolving relations between the human and animal populations of the British Isles over the past one thousand years.
In this very readable, instructive and well-illustrated narrative, Arthur MacGregor explores the animal kingdom from bees to horses, and the range of human activities, from pigeon-breeding to bear-baiting, that show how interdependent the animal-human relationship has been throughout history. Animal Encounters will have a broad appeal, aimed at all those with sympathy for and an interest in the animal world.
‘This enormous and dazzlingly encyclopaedic history of our relationship with animals over some 900 years is, largely, a tale of barbarity and imposition . . . [MacGregor] documents richly and marvellously untold examples of how we treated the beasts . . . one of the reasons Dr MacGregor’s book is so valuable: it deals with unadorned realities.’ – Adam Nicolson, The Spectator
‘Perhaps the most original book of the year was Arthur MacGregor’s Animal Encounters. This is the animal in art in an entirely different way by examining how we interact with them through past times, transport, larder and the farm. Sensitive and scholarly, it is a surprising book of calm observation about man’s treatment of animals.’ – James Stourton, ‘Books of the Year’, The Art Newspaper
‘Dr MacGregor presents his information with admirable restraint and neutrality . . . this encyclopaedic book is of humbling interest and breathtaking range, brimful of facts and without sentiment; no one who affects a care of our animal kingdom, and man’s role in it, should be without it.’ – Rory Knight Bruce, Country Life
‘an unusual volume, eminently readable, full of unfamiliar information and one that the author clearly enjoyed compiling.’ – Landscape History
‘This attractively illustrated and well-written book is the work of a writer whose scholarship has previously illuminated subjects that range from Roman gems to the history of collections . . . The former museum curator has created a book that is in some sense akin to a museum of curiosities. In the same way that a visitor to an exhibition is drawn to examine an unfamiliar or unexpected object by an attractive display, the reader’s interest here is easily engaged by the combination of informative description, contemporary comment and well-chosen illustration . . . I thoroughly recommend this book to general and specialist readers alike.’ – Antiquaries Journal
‘Animal Encounters is packed with information, much of it both fascinating and arcane . . . beautifully produced by Reaktion, on heavy glossy paper that shows the illustrations to advantage.’ – Archives of Natural History
‘this book is fundamentally more than historical in its impact. The topics discussed, and so vividly illustrated, are anthropological assessments for the modern world, using history as base data. There is an immediacy that will surely chime with a contemporary audience as we see our world increasingly sanitized of its non-human animals.’ – History
‘absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the ways we have treated animals and reacted with them over the past millennium. Arthur MacGregor . . . writes lucidly, factually and dispassionately with commendable thoroughness; in this he is assisted by some 160 well-chosen illustrations.’ – Animal Watch
‘This is an enthralling book. Surely, no one before has given such a wide-ranging account of people’s encounters with animals through the centuries, revealing all the ingenious ways in which they have handled, tended, exploited, even cruelly sported with them. All the practicalities are described, bringing a rich, and sometimes surprising, story to life, further enhanced by numerous pertinent illustrations. Final remarks on the distance separating us these days from once routine connections with badgers and beavers, wild pigs in forests, pigeons in dovecotes and eels in moats will prompt some sobering reflections. Animal Encounters is riveting from beginning to end.’ – Joan Thirsk, former general editor of the series The Agrarian History of England and Wales
‘critics reviewing the wonderful new book Animal Encounters: Human And Animal interaction In Britain From The Norman Conquest To World War One, by Arthur MacGregor, have gasped over the ancient sport of whipping a blinded bear, but have failed to point out that we are little better today.’ – Liz Jones, Mail on Sunday
‘MacGregor’s account fragments the received narrative of a Great Rupture between modern humans and animals – a rupture that is industrial, capitalist, technological, and monolithic – into a whole series of developments, some occurring as far back as the medieval period, that made it increasingly easy, convenient and profitable for (European) human beings to separate themselves from animals and thereby exploit them as a resource and en masse. Anyone committed to understanding that complex history, and perhaps challenging its legacy, will find Animal Encounters a rich, accessible and authoritative book.’ – Humanimalia
Arthur MacGregor is a former archaeologist and was Senior Curator at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, UK. He is the author of Bone, Antler Ivory and Horn (1985) and Curiosity and Enlightenment: Collectors and Collections from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century (2007).