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The Invention of the Modern Dog

, 304 pages

8 color illus., 34 halftones

October 2018



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The Invention of the Modern Dog

Breed and Blood in Victorian Britain


For centuries, different types of dogs were bred around the world for work, sport, or companionship. But it was not until Victorian times that breeders started to produce discrete, differentiated, standardized breeds.

In The Invention of the Modern Dog, Michael Worboys, Julie-Marie Strange, and Neil Pemberton explore when, where, why, and how Victorians invented the modern way of ordering and breeding dogs. Though talk of "breed" was common before this period in the context of livestock, the modern idea of a dog breed defined in terms of shape, size, coat, and color arose during the Victorian period in response to a burgeoning competitive dog show culture. The authors explain how breeders, exhibitors, and showmen borrowed ideas of inheritance and pure blood, as well as breeding practices of livestock, horse, poultry and other fancy breeders, and applied them to a species that was long thought about solely in terms of work and companionship.

The new dog breeds embodied and reflected key aspects of Victorian culture, and they quickly spread across the world, as some of Britain’s top dogs were taken on stud tours or exported in a growing international trade. Connecting the emergence and development of certain dog breeds to both scientific understandings of race and blood as well as Britain’s posture in a global empire, The Invention of the Modern Dog demonstrates that studying dog breeding cultures allows historians to better understand the complex social relationships of late-nineteenth-century Britain.

Michael Worboys is emeritus professor in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester. He is the coauthor of Rabies in Britain: Dogs, Disease and Culture, 1830–2000. Julie-Marie Strange is a professor of British history at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Death, Grief and Poverty in Britain, 1870–1914. Neil Pemberton is a Senior Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester. He is the coauthor of Murder and the Making of English CSI.

"A treasure-trove of detail, and a wonderful synthesis of information that would otherwise be buried in the rather obscure annals of the enthusiasts of dog breeding. There really is no better guide to this material. Fun as well as instructive, particularly when we learn about the history of specific breeds, this book provides a very important service to historians of animals and anyone with an interest in Victorian social and cultural history."

"Histories of animals often portray breeds as timeless. The Invention of the Modern Dog shows otherwise. Today’s notion of breeds, often based on appearance rather than behavior, is a recent creation. It developed amidst the new passion that arose in Victorian England: dog shows. This well-researched and insightful book takes us inside that world to reveal the source for ideas, such as the value of ‘pure breeding,’ that we take for granted today."

"Superbly researched and beautifully written, The Invention of the Modern Dog traces the development of pedigree breeding through a vast range of historical sources. The book provides a subtle and important contribution to our understanding not only of dog breeding but also of the Victorian period."

"The age of the Labradoodle takes it for granted that dogs come in distinct but mixable breeds. This remarkable book reconstructs the interlocking histories—social, cultural, and scientific—that brought the idea of standardized dog breeds, along with many of the breeds themselves, into being in Britain in the nineteenth century. A tour de force."

"Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens and P. T. Barnum walk into a pub...a classic comic set-up that can only lead to one punch line: The Invention of the Modern Dog. This chronicle — by science historians Michael Worboys and Neil Pemberton and historian Julie-Marie Strange — charts the confluence of biology, class and popular entertainment that resulted in an unprecedented burst of nineteenth-century canine breeding. That tumult, they argue, stares out at us today from the eyes of our dogs."

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