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The natural history of the Chihuahua: canine mythology and the science of breeding

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Postponed from 4 March

Since the beginning of the nineteenth century at least, dog breeds have been identified not only by their appearance but by elaborate canis personae created by breeders and owners to illustrate their breeds’ naturalized origins. These tales of origin blur the distinction between the artificial and the natural and vary from breed to breed; depending on the dog’s role, the history developed may be fairly modern or of ancient roots. Even Charles Darwin participated in this process, using dog mythologies in his research to create his theory of natural selection, and explain that theory to a wider public. The importance of breeds qua breeds is both scientific and rhetorical, driving scientific inquiry on the one hand and on the other incorporating romantic notions of progress which dominated breeder narratives of their most artificial creations. These mythologies have application even in today’s scientific research, and may offer new paths for research to come.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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