Thesis ID: CBB124942987

The Dog Remains: Mexico City’s Canine Massacres During the Enlightenment, 1770-1821 (2023)


This dissertation studies how ideas about economic productivity and the management of natural resources and populations during the Enlightenment deemed specific life forms as disposable. It also examines why particular groups of people pushed against this view of the world. I explore this phenomenon by focusing on the first systematic killing of dogs in the Americas enacted by government authorities. From 1770 to 1821, the colonial government of Mexico City, the capital of New Spain, ordered the corps of guardafaroles (nightwatchmen) to kill any dog (stray or domestic) found roaming after dusk. During this period, the guardafaroles claimed the lives of 20,000 to 35,000 dogs. Although state and Church authorities claimed the dog slaughters improved urban living conditions and benefited the populace, Mexico City commoners opposed the measure. Based on a social constructivist approach, I contend that principles found in Catholicism and oeconomic theory (an early modern concept encompassing the management of the household, natural resources, and governance) explain authorities’ contempt towards dogs. Church authorities in eighteenth-century Mexico City embraced the notion that animals had to be subservient to humankind. The version of oeconomy espoused by Spanish statesmen and government officials in Mexico City framed nature, animals included, as a vital resource for state-building practices. According to them, the appropriate exploitation of nature held the key to economic independence and self-sufficiency and keeping human populations alive, healthy, and productive. In the process, these bureaucrats also created categories of disposability. In their eyes, urban dogs were wasteful consumers of resources and hindrances to urbanites’ well-being. Because common urbanites, particularly plebian members, rarely wrote about dogs, the dissertation takes a materialist approach to explain these groups’ resistance to the slaughters. I argue that common urbanites and plebian people had different perspectives on dogs based on their interactions with these animals. I demonstrate that plebian groups relied on the sale of dog feces to supplement their meager incomes, and dog owners saw their canine companions as integral members of their households due to the labor they afforded.

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Authors & Contributors
Feller, D A
Clark, Tim W.
Edgington, Ryan H.
Flores, Dan L.
Fountain, Steven M.
Jablonski Walker, Suzanne
Archives of Natural History
Earth Sciences History: Journal of the History of the Earth Sciences Society
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Environmental History
History and Anthropology
History and Theory
University of Cambridge (United Kingdom)
Cambridge University
Cambridge University Press
Basic Books
Oxford University Press
Hunting; trapping
Dogs; cats
Natural history
Human-animal relationships
Environmental history
Darwin, Charles Robert
Amundsen, Roald
Gantt, W. Horsley
Mawson, Douglas
Río, Andrés Manuel del
Werner, Abraham Gottlob
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
20th century, early
16th century
Early modern
Great Britain
United States
Ottoman Empire
New Mexico (U.S.)

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