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Bristol students to investigate Zoo's history

Press release issued: 17 September 2010

The history of Bristol Zoo, which celebrates its 175th anniversary next year, is the subject of two Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research projects by PhD students at the University of Bristol.

Working in partnership with the Zoo, the two students will provide material and insights to enrich visitors’ experience and deepen understanding of the Zoo's history for both the local community and those working in the fields of social and environmental history.

PhD student Sarah-Joy Maddeaux will look at the social history of the Zoo by researching those who founded, ran, and visited the Zoo in its 175-year history to gain an understanding of people's attitudes towards the Zoo and the different influences affecting its operations over the years.

The project will involve work with the Zoo's own archival documents, research in other local history collections, and calls for wider participation through an oral history project to capture memories of the Zoo.

Sarah-Joy said: “I hope that this study will lead to a greater appreciation for the place of the Zoo in the culture and history of Bristol.”

PhD student Andy Flack will research and write the animal histories of the Zoo.  He will investigate the ways in which animals kept at the Zoo were captured/donated/acquired, how they were bred and housed, and the stories of sickness and death at the Zoo which are often overlooked.

He will also consider how animals have been exhibited and what that can tell us about how we engage with the rest of the natural world and the ways in which we understand our relationship to animals.

Andy said: “I hope that the project will also include the development of a more extensive oral and material archive at the Zoological Gardens and that my thesis, and the project as a whole, will be an accessible way for people in this city and beyond to understand the complex ways in which we understand and depict animals, and the very real roles they had to play in the history of Bristol Zoo and of the city itself.”

Dr Bryan Carroll, Director of Bristol Zoo Gardens said: “We are very excited to have Sarah-Joy and Andy working with us to help uncover the Zoo’s historical artefacts and rich history.  As we approach our 175th birthday, we are aiming to preserve as much of the Zoo’s magic as possible, so their timing is perfect.”

He added: “During our celebratory year, Bristol Zoo Gardens will be marking the occasion with a series of events in a city-wide celebration."

The students will present information about their projects this Sunday [19 September] at the Bristol Zoo shareholders' tea party to commemorate the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society's 175th anniversary.

The students are funded by Collaborative Doctoral Awards (CDAs) from the Arts and Humanities Research Council - two of four such awards recently won by Bristol's Faculty of Arts.  These awards are given for research that involves active collaboration with outside partners and are designed to encourage researchers to use their expertise to work on projects that benefit the wider community. 

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