And so I organized the exhibit around some of the ways humans have pictured animals in the city over the past century and a half, identifying six main points of view. Hobokenites had variously considered animals as neighbors (living side-by-side, especially when the city still had its original meadowlands), as workers (mostly conveying people and goods), as sources of food and clothing, as pests and strays targeted for destruction, as sources of entertainment or spectacle, and as companions and family.
I’ve put selections from each category online, along with selected photos, photos, prints, maps, documents and art.
hen I proposed an exhibit on “city animals” to the Hoboken Historical Museum, I knew I wanted to explore interaction between the city’s humans, and domesticated, companion, wild, and “exotic” animals, over the past 150 years. I wasn’t sure, at first, how I would organize the display and its attendant catalogue, but a direction became clear as I sifted through documents, and reviewed photographs, objects, and art. I realized the exhibition could not follow a strict chronology, as doing so might imply a history of steady evolution or enlightened behavior not borne out by facts. And unlike other exhibits I’d organized, which often focused on the lives of poor or marginalized residents previously absent from history texts, this display could not voice “the other side;” it could only present the perspective of the dominant group, accompanied, perhaps, by an awareness of the other’s silence. An exhibit on city animals would ultimately be about humans, a record of our wants—and also, my research told me, about how our wants had shifted and changed, and sometimes doubled back, over time.