Thursday, May 22, 2008

Political hunting:"Fabulous beasts can only be slain by fabulous humans."

At the Kalamazoo Medieval Congress I snatched up at a very reasonable price the single display copy of Thomas T. Alllsen's The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History.

My interest was simple. I had noticed in my recent teaching of ancient history that monarchs of nearly every culture we touched on were routinely depicted as mighty hunters. I got into the habit of telling my students "here is so-and-so as Gilgamesh," referring to one of the earliest examples of such depiction. Similarly, in teaching world history I was fascinated by all the pictures left by North Indian and Central Asian monarchs of their hunting exploits and what looked like huge picnics.

I finally had some time today to look at Allsen's book and I'm glad bought it. It is an elegantly written, wide-ranging exploration of how hunting, a practical and high prestige activity through most of history, has also served as a symbol of royal control over nature, and the strength and accomplishment of monarchs. I look forward to having a chance to read it thoroughly.

The environmental historian joining our department in the fall, Dean Bavington, has worked on fishing as hunting versus fishing as modern managed economic activity. I wonder if he'd like to have this book in our collection when he gets here?

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