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The riddle of the kangaroo birth. Generating knowledge about marsupials in and outside the zoo (1826-1926)

Oliver Hochadel (IMF-CSIC)
Divendres 16 d'abril de 2021 a les 13:00 
Resum: Ever since Europeans sighted the first kangaroo in Australia, it posed riddles galore to naturalists. For example: were Marsupials real mammals? One question proved a particularly hard nut to crack and led to a century-long debate: how do kangaroos actually give birth? The advent of the zoo in the first half of the nineteenth century made it possible, at least in principle, to tackle the problem through observation. British naturalist Richard Owen enlisted the London zoo to devise a research program. He put forward the hypothesis that the mother put the tiny embryo into the pouch using her lips but could not observe it as such. Naturalists in other European zoos were eager to come up with definite observations such as Theodor Leisering (Berlin Zoo) and Ernst Pinkert, the owner of a private zoo in Leipzig. In its first part this paper will analyze the reports published by European naturalists. In what way did they use the zoo as a resource? What was the epistemic value of observations as opposed to the classical anatomical approach (dissection)? What role did the animal keepers play who had been told to observe the pregnant kangaroo day and night? In the second part this paper will contrast the European zoo-based investigations with the observations made by naturalists, hunters and farmers in Australia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The riddle of the kangaroo birth had become a question much debated in the Australian public sphere, in particular in newspapers. In how far was this research conducted outside the zoo different to the European one? Finally, this paper will ask in what ways information about the reproduction of marsupials circulated between continents - or not. And how the riddle was solved in the end.
Oliver Hochadel is a historian of science and a tenured scientist at the Institució Milà i Fontanals for Research in Humanities (CSIC) in Barcelona. His research focuses on the relationship between science and its publics. Case studies include electricity as a public science in the German enlightenment, the history of human origins research in the twentieth century and the urban history of science around 1900. More recently he has tried to appropriate ideas from global history in order to write a history of the global zoo in the long nineteenth century.
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