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Racial Prejudice and the Performing Animals Controversy in Early Twentieth-Century Britain

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This paper attempts to show how racial prejudice and selective, usually inarticulate, racial discrimination influenced attempts to conduct an objective examination of charges of cruelty in the training and exhibition of performing animals in Britain in the early twentieth century. As the debate intensified, and following the appointment of a parliamentary Select Committee, one explanation often given by both sides for shortcomings in the treatment of performing animals was the alleged cruelty particularly or exclusively attributable to the “alien enemy,” “foreigners,” and distinct racial groups. The Committee faced the problem of assessing attributions of real cruelty as opposed to unproven charges that may have resulted from irrational, emotive, or strategic prejudice. This paper examines the context in which such charges were made, and the degree to which they might have been introduced or resorted to in order to serve the prejudices or interests of each side in the controversy.

Affiliations: 1: University of Cumbria;, Email:


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