Victorian-era Cartoons Featuring Primates: taking the punch out of evolutionary theory

A new post on The Great Backboned Family website…

Anthrozoological Explorations

Cartoons in popular Victorian magazines post-1859 appeared to mock Darwinian theory through their representations of apes (including humans), but at the same time they popularised it.  Cartoons in magazines such as Punch were meant to simplify complex ideas down to humorous stereotypes as this was the purpose of cartoons; they had less bite than caricatures, which were also deployed copiously in relation to Darwin himself (Browne, 2009 and 2001).  Punch consistently ran cartoons that actually took the punch out of evolutionary theory, divesting it of seriousness and gravity:

“cartoons in popular publications, mainly aimed at the educated, used the anthropomorphised ape as a subversive trope to resist that aspect of evolution that may be found to be the most frightening and threatening to the increasingly powerful middle class: the evisceration of divine creation from human history” (Larson, 2009:7).

In the May 1861 Punch cartoon titled “Monkeyana” (Fig 3), a gorilla…

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On the Side of the Angels?

Anthrozoological Explorations

I thought I would post a bit more about 19th-century responses to Darwin and what this meant in terms of how Victorians represented and related to other primates, as explored in my work for the anthrozoology course.

Disraeli’s well-known speech, given at Oxford in 1864, reflects the fundamental issue that many Victorians grappled with in the aftermath of Darwin’s publication of Origin of Species:

“What is the question now placed before society with a assurance the most astounding! The question is this:  Is man an ape or an angel?  My Lord, I am on the side of the angels.”      (Irvine, 1955:1)

Prior to that, in 1860, Wilberforce and Huxley first ignited the debate at an Oxford meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Browne, 2001:500).  The similarities between humans and other great apes had been noted by English naturalists as early as the 1600s, for…

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New Year News – The Great Backboned Family

Happy New Year to everyone!  Our big news for 2015 is the launch of a new, more expansive website where primates are integral, but other animals are also discussed from an anthrozoological perspective.  The website will be called The Great Backboned Family, after the book by Arabella Buckley, titled Winners in Life’s Race, or the Great Backboned Family (1883).  Buckley’s book, while a product of the 19th century, was (and is) an inspiring endeavour to tell the story of the many vertebrates known at the time.  Hers was a novel take on evolution, which emphasised the importance of the family bond to all vertebrates (this is what united the great backboned family).

Our new website will be completed in February this year and I’ll link to the web address once it’s up and running, but I will continue to post here until most relevant content has been moved over.