Why do we feel bad at the zoo? In a fascinating counterhistory of American zoos in the 1960s and 1970s, Lisa Uddin revisits the familiar narrative of zoo reform, from naked cages to more naturalistic enclosures. She argues that reform belongs to the story of cities and feelings toward many of their human inhabitants.
In Zoo Renewal, Uddin demonstrates how efforts to make the zoo more natural and a haven for particular species reflected white fears about the American city – and, pointedly, how the shame many visitors felt in observing confined animals drew on broader anxieties about race and urban life. Examining the campaign against cages, renovations at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and the San Diego Zoo, and the cases of a rare female white Bengal tiger and a collection of southern white rhinoceroses, Uddin unpacks episodes that challenge assumptions that zoos are about other worlds and other creatures and expand the history of U.S. urbanism.
Uddin shows how the drive to protect endangered species and to ensure larger, safer zoos was shaped by struggles over urban decay, suburban growth, and the dilemmas of postwar American whiteness. In so doing, Zoo Renewal ultimately reveals how feeling bad, or good, at the zoo is connected to our feelings about American cities and their residents.
Introduction: On Feeling Bad at the Zoo
1. Shame and the Naked Cage
2. Zoo Slum Clearance in Washington, D.C.
3. Mohini’s Bodies
4. White Open Spaces in San Diego County
5. Looking Endangered
Afterword: Good Feelings in Seattle
Lisa Uddin is assistant professor of art history and visual culture studies at Whitman College.
"Lisa Uddin's highly original and compelling argument considers modern zoos as phenomena of urban, suburban, and exurban hopes and fears. The book makes clear that ever-more-ambitious plans to build a finally great zoo are deeply tied to our desires not for a better life for captive animals but for a better life for ourselves."
– Nigel Rothfels, author of Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo
"[An] interesting, and perhaps surprising, perspective on urban and racial issues."
– Planning Magazine
"Zoo history is more than simply that – it appears to also be a history of the human condition."
"An important and thought-provoking contribution to thinking about the place of zoos in modern society."
– Environmental History
"Zoo Renewal makes an original, important contribution to the scholarship of zoo histories and human-animal studies as well as of the social and cultural history of urbanism, environmentalism and identity politics in twentieth-century American. It is highly recommended."
"Zoo Renewal offers a provocative, original reading of midcentury attempts to reform American zoos, reminding us that how we view animals inevitably reflects and reinforces how we view humans."
– Journal of American History
"Zoo Renewal is an important contribution to the growing critical historiography of zoos and, more broadly, post–World War II leisure spaces in the United States and around the globe. Uddin's book adds a new dimension to what has become the standard historical understanding of zoos' relationship to race and empire."
– Buildings & Landscapes