The Return of Native Nordic Fauna

A research blog exploring animal reintroduction history by Dolly Jørgensen

Beaver history on TV

I appeared on the NRK live broadcast television program Sommeråpent on 8 August 2017. The broadcast was at Nelaug train station in Åmli kommune. I’ve has worked on the history of beavers in Norway and Sweden and Åmli holds a special place in that history because all beavers in Scandinavia originate from there. I had the chance on the program to introduce this history, as well as the historical use of beaver products.

While I was waiting for the filming to begin, I got to sit with the taxidermied beaver on a picnic bench. I had lots of kids stop by so I got to give mini-talks about beavers and their history. The kids were very interested and some even brought their parents over after hearing about the beavers to show the parents what they learned. It was great!

So here’s the video of my part on the show, which was broadcast live on NRK 1 and is now available in the video archive:

This blog of course contains much more information about the beavers of Åmli for you to read, such as a post about my visit to Næs Ironworks, a post on the Beaver Whisper Peder Jensen, and a post inspired by my first visit to Elverheim museum on castoreum.

While I was in the area, I also had a meeting with Tonje Ramse Trædal of Elverheim Museum (who was kind enough to provide the beaver and castoreum sacs for the TV appearance). We are planning a museum exhibit to mark the 100 year anniversary of the beavers being sent in 1921 from Norway to Sweden for reintroduction. I’m excited about this opportunity to reach an even bigger Norwegian audience with this research.

Endling, a new word for new times

I have published an article “Endling, the power of the last in an extinction-prone world” in the journal Environmental Philosophy. In the article I put together the history of a word (and the history of the idea) to represent the last individual of a species.

This word, endling, has an exciting 20-year history. It began with a proposal in a short letter to the journal Nature in 1996 to coin a word to represent the last in a line. It was then picked up by the curators of the planned National Museum of Australia (NMA) that opened its doors in 2001 as part of a memorial to extinction, with a special focus on the thylacine. This sparked the word onto its journey into popular culture as well as popular science.

The Endling display at the National Museum of Australia. Photo by D. Jørgensen, 2016.

Importantly in this history, I show much museums and their presentations of ideas matter. I had the good fortune to visit NMA in 2016 (thanks to Professor Libby Robin for arranging my trip and interview with the former curator!). The Endling cabinet or monument was striking with its aluminum shine and central position in the exhibit. Its no wonder that the first people to pick up on endling as a concept had visited the exhibit. The history of endling proves that museum designers and curators have the power to make a difference in how people think and express those thoughts.

Through my historical narrative of this word, I argue that endling could play a key role in remembering species that have become extinct and encouraging action to avoid extinction in the future:

The concept of endling, with its ability to bridge the gap between species extinction as an abstraction and the death of an animal as a concrete event, offers a new way of thinking about extinction. It can make the narrative personal while retaining the universality of extinction—when this individual is gone, the whole species is no more.

This was a very different piece for me to research and write. I interviewed a symphonic composer and a artistic director and choreographer about their uses of endling. I read modern science fiction stories, which are often born digital, that frame the last of a species as an endling. I looked at the visual arts that used the term. And I even got to do research into the different genres of metal music (and played one song over and over again to try to make out the lyrics with its raspy metal voice — to no avail). It was an adventure to follow a word as it popped up here and there in, what at first, were unexpected places. And yet all of it made sense in light of the power of the word as a response to the sixth mass extinction event which we are living through. With new times, we need new words.

I hope you’ll enjoying reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Read my unformatted version of the text or go to the journal’s official version.

My new place for stories

This January (2017) will mark four full years of writing on this research blog. When I started the blog, I wasn’t really sure what it was for. Was it for ‘public’ dissemination of results? Scholarly discussion? Visibility for my work? I’m not sure that I can answer those questions even now four years later. But what I do know is that writing on this blog has changed the way I do research.

methodologicalchallengesI have now published an article about the transformations in my research process spurred on by the digital medium you are reading. My article “A new place for stories: Blogging as an environmental history research tool” appears in the book Methodological Challenges in Nature-Culture and Environmental History Research, edited by Jocelyn Thorpe, Stephanie Rutherford, and L. Anders Sandberg, which is now available. This is an awesome collection of environmental history methods articles, which is a welcome scholarly contribution since historians tend to not publish specifically about their research methods.

In my chapter I present an experiment: five pseudo-posts about blogging. I call them pseudo-posts because unlike the true online format of a blog, clickable links and embedded visuals are not possible. Yet I’ve tried to simulate the reading of a blog through indicated links (they are underlined and I give the web addresses in the footnotes) and writing style. Each pseudo-post uses the title of one of my 2013 posts as a launching point and explores how blogging changed the process of my environmental history research.

The five posts I chose were:

  1. Post #1, 1 January 2013: Launch of research blog — How can you not start at the beginning?
  2. Post #30, 4 April 2013: The hidden reintroduction — The most unexpected story of my entire research project since it has to do with a little parasitic beaver louse!
  3. Post #64, 31 July 2013: On the time I drank castoreum — My most read post (thanks to an NPR article that linked to it) and a great story about stinking like beaver.
  4. Post #80, 7 October 2013: Museum menageries — I’ve always loved visiting museums, but this project has helped me to see them in whole new ways.
  5. Post #88, 13 December 2013: Migrant muskox — Different scholarly media interact (talks, videos, articles, and blog posts) so we have to embrace them all!

In each ‘post’ section, I talk about the larger issues of how I’ve done my historical research for this project and the effect of blogging on that process. Although blogs may provide space for research dissemination, discussion, or community building, I have found that the greatest effect of my blogging has been a shift in my scholarly practice by embracing two central aspects of research blogging: writing often and sharing stories. That’s what doing history is all about.


If you’d like to read the stories I shared in the article in full, you can read a text-only version here. I’d definitely also recommend that you (or your local library) buy the book so you can read all the contributions.

Wild tourism meets local civilisation

The contemporary ‘rewilding’ movement as manifested in organisations like Rewilding Europe promotes wildlife tourism as an economic benefit for local communities. The newest Rewilding Europe target area, Rewilding Lapland, has also adopted this emphasis on wildlife watching as an alternative to other disruptive uses of the land such as intensive forestry, mining, and green energy developments which are competing economic interests in the area.

The event at Dalarna University was organised by Albina Pashkevich (middle). Håkan Lindström of Rewilding Lapland also talked at the event.

The event at Dalarna University was organised by Albina Pashkevich (middle). Both I (left) and Håkan Landström (right) of Rewilding Lapland talked at the event.

As a historian, I look for historical parallels or (although I know many historians shutter at the idea) historical lessons that might shed light on potential hidden problems with contemporary developments. So when I was asked to participate in a seminar about rewilding and tourism at Dalarna University’s Tourism Studies group last week, I decided to offer up a historical case of when ‘rewilding’ tourism (even if it wasn’t called rewilding back then) conflicted with local inhabitants. Håkan Landström of Rewilding Lapland was there to talk about his plans to get the rewilding activities up and running.

I talked about the Norwegian muskox herd that has become a tourist icon in the Dovre mountains and Dovre National Park with signs and toys and muskox safaris. On the surface, everything would seem great with these reintroduced animals that have built up a whole tourist industry around themselves.

But below the surface I’ve found a history of local inhabitants who did not want muskox there. They were scared to go hiking, had to run up trees to avoid charging animals, and one local man was killed. Numerous newspaper articles over the years reveal that muskoxen ended up going into towns and either had to be shooed away or shot. The upshot of all that is that a multi-community muskox management plan had to be created in order to make sure that these wild animals stay inside the lines of the allowable area (or are killed).

So while rewilding proponents keep talking about how we need to ‘give nature some more space’ (Landström of Rewilding Lapland said this in his talk) or E. O. Wilson lauches his idea to ‘devote half the surface of the Earth to nature’, they often overlook that people actually inhabit and/or use those spaces. People who live and work in rural areas generally don’t want predators or large dangerous animals in places where they might come in contact with them. Sure, a tourist will think it’s great to go on a wildlife safari in the north to see muskox or bear or lynx, but they don’t have to live there all the time. Not everybody wants to work in tourism–some people honestly want to be farmers. And that doesn’t mean that they are not ‘civilised’. Rewilders need to take seriously local residents’ concerns or they risk creating colonial hierarchies in which the rural/local/peripheral are ‘sacrificed’ on behalf of the urban/distant/center.

This doesn’t mean that rewilding initatives are impossible. But they better start listening to more voices if we are going to get this party started.

A muskox from Dave Eggers, It is Right to Draw Their Fur (buy the book here:

An awesome muskox drawn by Dave Eggers. Buy his It is Right to Draw Their Fur here:



Learning to live in the multi-species city

We tend to think that cities, as human constructs, are the homes of humans. But they are much more than that. The modern city is actually filled with wild animal inhabitants. Squirrels, hedgehogs, pigeons, sparrows, frogs, and many more small critters live within the confines of European cities; it is their natural habitat. Livestock have also traditionally been city residents, with pigs and poultry as most common. Mice and rats receive the most frequent negative response, particularly when they take up residence inside of human houses. But in the 21st century many of the others are seen as desirable—indicators of an environmentally-friendly urban area. Our artificial structures are part of nature for these animals.

I was invited to talk at an event called “PLATSEN: bringing together key actors for sustainability” this week in Umeå. The event was targeted toward local and regional actors working on urban sustainable design, urban planning, and smart cities. The organisers asked me to give a talk about environmental history as a policy tool. I decided to tell four histories that reveal different approaches to our non-human co-inhabitants of cities. These were stories of Control, Care, Compromise, and Creativity.

The Control history used an incident in 1354 when the Norwich city government records recorded a complaint that:

divers persons and children have been hurt by boars, children killed and eaten, and others [when] buried exhumed, and others maimed, and many persons of the said city have received great injuries as wrecking of houses, destruction of gardens of divers persons by such kind of pigs upon which great complaint is often brought before the said Bailiffs and Community imploring them for remedy on the misfortunes, dangers and injuries which have been done to them. (Records of the City of Norwich, 205–6).

I talked about how the response to urban pigs was to control their actions through penning and herding, rather than banning the animals from town. There was a need to accommodate daily life and routines to the animals’ presence.

For the Care story, I used the burning badger babies incident I discussed previously on this blog. In this case, firefighters had rescued some badger kits from a burning building–revealing their care for the animals. But the kits ended up being euthanised because an appropriate rehabilitation facility could not be found–which we can also read as an act of care.

The story of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio showed how Compromise works with urban animals. The residents of Gubbio had to be willing to give the wolf alternatives if they wanted to avoid predation on their sheep.

Watching the bats emerge from under Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, Texas. April 2016. Photo by D Jørgensen.

Watching the bats emerge from under Congress Avenue Bridge, Austin, Texas. April 2016. Photo by D Jørgensen.

Finally, I told the story of the bats under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas as an example of Creativity. The Congress Avenue Bridge has crossed the Colorado River in downtown Austin to connect the two sides of town since 1910, but when it was renovated in 1980, it became a perfect habitat for bats. Bats begin showing up to roost under the bridge in 1982 and now there are over 1 million bats that roost under bridge from March to November every year. While the initial reaction in the early 1980s to the bats was fear, the city has adopted the animals as as a tourist attraction and even symbol of the city. In 1990 the city parks and recreation department set up a large educational display along the river’s trail. The city approved the installation of artist Dale Whistler’s kinetic metal sculpture of a stylised bat in a triangular intersection island near the bridge in 1998. The annual Bat Fest, featuring live music, art and craft vendors, and bat-themed activities on the bridge including the nightly emergence, started in 2004. There are hundreds who come each night to see the bats emerge: See the bat flight I witnessed. This is creative co-inhabitation.

To make sustainable cities we need to learn to live in a multi-species city. We need to become welcoming to non-humans by adopting policies and approaches of Control, Care, Compromise, and Creativity depending on particular historical circumstances.

You can watch my full talk online. My part starts at minute 11:30 in the video feed.

Anthropocene Animals

There has been a wide acceptance among scholars that we are living in a new age. This has been labeled to encapsulate the human (anthropos) nature of the age as the Anthropocene (although other names such as Capitalocene have been proposed as well). While originally proposed as a geologic era with special relevance for the geologic and atmospheric sciences, it has been picked up throughout the natural and human sciences, including history, as a way of talking about a human-dominated planet.

When I was asked to give a public lecture in conjunction with a new art exhibit “Perpetual Uncertainty: Contemporary Art in the Nuclear Anthropocene” at the contemporary art museum Bildmuseet in Umeå, Sweden, I wanted to think about the exhibit’s use the Anthropocene in the context of the non-human animal inhabitants of the planet. I decided to title my talk “Anthropocene Animals: how humans are changing the planet and its inhabitants.”

The opening of the exhibit in October 2016 could not really have been better timed. The International Commission on Stratigraphy had established a Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’ to make a recommendation about possible geologic markers to delineate the Anthropocene from the Holocene, which started about 11,500 years ago. In August 2016, the Working Group recommended that the Anthropocene be started in about 1950 to align with radioactive fallout from nuclear materials. The decision was that we are living in the Nuclear Anthropocene.

With this in mind, I opened my talk with the animals of Chernobyl and Fukushima, then laid the groundwork of the Anthropocene as a time period, then turned to some of the ways we humans have been modifying animals in the longue durée. I organised the talk into three areas that match with things I’ve been researching over the past few years: domestication, distribution, and deextinction. Throughout the talk, I connected my ideas to the art works on display (which you can see even if you can’t come to Umeå in the Nuclear Culture Source Book that serves as exhibit catalog and additional resource).

At the end of the talk, I showed a clip from the final scene of Them!, the science fiction thriller movie from 1954. In the film, early atomic tests in New Mexico had caused ants to mutate into giant monsters. As the last of the ants is being killed, one of the onlookers wonders, “if these monsters are a result of the first atomic bomb in 1945, what about all the others that have been exploded since then?” The scientist protagonist answers:

When man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.

That is the perpetual uncertainty that the name of the exhibit implies. And it is the uncertainty we will continue to face about the effect of humans on the non-human animal inhabitants of the planet. We are all Anthropocene animals.

Watch my talk here.

Unexpected media blitz

Earlier this week the press department at my university published a write-up in Swedish about this project based on an interview with me: Utrotade arters återkomst väcker känslor. The university press contact Sofia Stridsman had seen that I had an article in The Washington Post and wanted to find out more about my research. I thought it was a nice gesture, so I quickly agreed to the interview.

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A Sami view of muskox

Last week I had the pleasure to participate in The Future of Wild Europe early career researcher conference held in Leeds, England. I gave a keynote address “Conflict in a wilder world: Of muskoxen and men in Scandinavia” on the second day of the event (you can watch my talk here in its entirety).

If you’ve kept up with my work on this project, talking about the muskoxen which were reintroduced to the Scandinavian peninsula is nothing new for me. I looked at the muskox relocation from the muskox’s point of view in a 2014 talk I gave at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment & Society (which you can watch online) and the subsequent paper I published with the material (read it in The Historical Animal). Exploring how the story would be told if muskoxen were treated as human migrants, I discussed their forced relocation, unwanted immigrant status, and eventual cultural assimilation.

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On the last of the tigers

This September 7th marks the 80th anniversary of the extinction of the thylacine, also known as the Tasmanian tiger. Or at least, that’s the date that has been agreed upon in official sources as the extinction date.

I took up the issue of dating the thylacine’s extinction in my recently published article “Presence of absence, absence of presence, and extinction narratives” in the volume Nature, Temporality and Environmental Management: Scandinavian and Australian Perspectives on Landscapes and Peoples. The question is whether or not the absence of evidence of live thylacines should be interpreted as the absence of thylacines. This proves a more challenging question to answer than you might think.

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Perception of risk of harm

Today I gave a lecture at the ESEH Summer School called “Knowing and not knowing: How ideas of risk affect responses to disease and pests”. I picked this topic because the School is focused on “The Undesirable: How Parasites, Diseases, and Pests Shape Our Environments”. It made a nice follow-up to my talk earlier this summer at the parasite conference in Turku.

In the talk I laid out some initial thoughts about how we as environmental historians can historicise responses to things identified as dangerous or harmful. My proposal was that responses are determined by the perception of risk of harm based on knowledge or lack of knowledge.

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