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The bear: Culture, nature, heritage

posted on 24.02.2020, 00:00 authored by O Nevin, I Convery, P Davis
Bears are iconic animals; they are totemic of the non-human world, symbols of multiple human-cultural manifestations of nature. In human culture, bears have played a number of roles; gods, monsters, kings, fools, brothers, lovers, dancers, medicine, food and pest. They are seen as protectors of the forest; symbols of masculinity; a comfort for our children; political bargaining chips; an economic indicator; the first casualty/poster boy of global warming; symbols for conservation; worthy adversaries for a hunter’s rifle; prize photography subjects for nature tourists, or the last bastion of wilderness. Bears offer a unique insight into a multiplicity of paradigms that explore human - non-human animal relationships. Bear totems reinforce and maintain our connection to the natural world. Myths, legends, folklore, biology and ecology have informed our understanding of bears and their place in the world. From imagined fireside tales - oral histories passed through generations - to blue-chip documentaries in the 21st century, bears enable us to ponder our lives in relation to their world and to define our own. Bears interweave with many of our cultures, and as such they have played an important role in mediating the human-nature relationship for thousands of years. Their significance has been challenged and reshaped over millennia but bears still play an important part in many lives symbolically and materially. This book explores the world of bears through the lens of human cultures and societies; encompassing history, folk stories, art, and literature alongside science and conservation. This is a novel approach to take, but one that is long overdue. Bears transcend both natural and disciplinary boundaries, and authors from diverse fields have contributed to this book, providing a rich selection of views that explore human/bear relationships. The essays explore how bears are an influence in contemporary art, and how they are represented in children’s literature and in museum exhibitions. The relationship between bears and native peoples, and how contemporary society lives alongside these animals, provides an understanding of current attitudes and approaches to bear management and conservation. The history of captive bears is brought into contemporary relief by considering the fate of captive bears held in Asian countries for bile production. Bears feature in gay culture and are an intrinsic component to research on the Yeti and Sasquatch. Together, these articles present an insight into the changing face of attitudes towards nature, species survival and the significance of conservation engagement in the 21st century; all through one very familiar and charismatic group of animals: bears. Biologists, historians, anthropologists, cultural theorists, conservationists and museologists will all find riches in the detail presented in this bear cornucopia.



Nevin OT; Convery I; Davis P



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Boydell Press

Place of Publication

Woodbridge, UK

Open Access


External Author Affiliations

San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research; University of Cumbria, UK

Era Eligible



Heritage matters

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