Animal Bodies, a new website I am working on, draws inspiration from the epilogue of my dissertation, Strange and Unstable Bodies: Shifting Materialities in Early American Natural History Networks.
The website examines the re-creation and digitization of animal bodies in three websites: Crappy Taxidermy, In Pieces, and What is Missing? Digitized animal bodies circulate freely and are capable of being viewed by anyone with an Internet connection; physical decay and decomposition no longer pose a threat to the animal body, now preserved as a digital presence. Yet digitized animal bodies also separates humans from flesh-and-blood animals, a separation with both positive and negative implications. With our focus on digitized animals, we can potentially leave real animals alone and undisturbed, but we can also find ourselves caring less and less about the real animals and their fate. After all, the digitized animals are far easier to control, contain, and manipulate than real animals; they do not die, escape, or resist us.
Drawing on animal studies and media theory, I argue that the digital presence of the animal bodies in these websites is in many ways more vital than the original materiality of flesh-and-blood animal bodies out in the natural world, traveling farther, faster, and more reliably that flesh-and-blood animal specimens. Crappy Taxidermy emphasizes the distanced viewing of the taxidermied animal body; the website’s animal bodies have been photographed and digitized, further removing them from their original embodiment as living creatures. In addition to humorous sites like Crappy Taxidermy, digitized animal bodies shape more serious-minded projects such as In Pieces and What is Missing? in which digitized animal bodies connect people and raise awareness about species and habitat loss.