Zoos and Animals in Eastern Europe and Russia

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This week’s podcast is the third of five events for Nature’s Revenge: Ecology, Animals, and Waste in Eurasia, the Spring 2021 Speakers’ Series at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. For the entire schedule for the series.

Animals are some of the most impacted living things in the Anthropocene. The presence of humans has fundamentally altered their lives and environment. Humans have used animals for labor, food, sport, commodities, companionship and as objects of scientific knowledge. What does human’s complex relationship with animals say about human society? And is there a particular inflection of these issues in Eastern Europe and Russia under state socialism? I turned to Tracy McDonald and Marianna Szczygielska for some insight on the transformation of animals into objects to be caged, shown, hunted, traded, and studied in Eurasia and the wider world.


Tracy McDonald is an historian of Russian and Soviet history at McMaster University. She co-edited a volume of documents on collectivization and is the author of Face to the Village: The Riazan Countryside Under Soviet Rule, 1921-1930 and is co-editor with Daniel Vandersommers of Zoo Studies: A New Humanities (McGill-Queens University Press, 2019). McDonald was one of the three founding members of the independent documentary-film company Chemodan Films.

Marianna Szczygielska is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.  Her most recent articles on zoos and colonial encounters are “Elephant empire: zoos and colonial encounters in Eastern Europe” published in Cultural Studies and “Pandas and the Reproduction of Race and Sexuality in the Zoo” in Zoo Studies. A New Humanities. She’s also co-edited a special issue of Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, and Technoscience titled “Plantarium: Human-Vegetal Ecologies” in 2019.


Dramarama, “Visiting the Zoo,” Cinema Verite, 1985.