Rat (Reaktion Books - Animal)
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Central to Rat is the history of the relationship between humans and rats and, in particular, the complex human attitudes toward these shrewd creatures. Burt examines why the rat is viewed as more loathsome and verminous than other parasitic animals and considers why humans have had diametrically opposed attitudes about the rat: some cultures greatly admire the rat for its skills, while others consider the rat the scourge of the earth. Burt also draws on a wide range of examples to explore the rat's role in science, culture, and art, from its appearances in children's literature such as The Wind in the Willows to Victorian rat- and dog-baiting pits to its symbolic roles in folklore.
Rat offers an intriguing and richly illustrated study of one of nature's most remarkable creatures and ultimately finds that the rat exists as a perverse totem for the worst excesses of human behavior.
night their camp was attacked by rats who ate all the leather of their arms and equipment, ‘gnawed through their shield-straps and ate through their bowstrings’. Believing them to be the earth-born of the prophecy they built their temple to Smintheus on the spot. There are a number of similar stories. Herodotus tells how the Egyptians were saved from the army of Sanacherib when a plague of field mice ate through the latter’s weapons and they fled. Sethos had gone to the temple shrine of
sign of madness and yet, at the same time, the history of rats is inextricably connected to human nature: ‘learned people who have examined the nature and character of rats have found in them our inclinations, passions, vices and virtues’.51 De Sigrais would have probably been astounded by the extremes this combination of madness and identification would reach in the twentieth century. In William Kotzwinkle’s satire on laboratory science Dr Rat, the narrator is a rat driven mad by the experiments
mice through his dealings with mouse fanciers whose own breeding programmes occasionally threw up unusual creatures. Harvard mouse researchers similarly co-operated with the mouse fancy by exhibiting their special mice at the local Boston shows in return for samples of new or existing mutants.19 Some of the main rat production companies were founded in the mid-twentieth century, including Charles River in 1947 and Carworth in 1935. Harlan Sprague-Dawley Inc., founded in 1931, began by breeding
developed a significant use of rats in behavioural psychology, such as in maze learning experiments, and 1901 the first official showing in public of fancy rats in Britain took place. A little later, in 1909, one of Sigmund Freud’s seminal cases, ‘The Rat Man’, was published. Finally, soldiers’ intense exposure to rats on the battlefields of the First World War seems to intensify this impression that the rat, in its own peculiar way, could be described as a totem animal for modernity.
www.fishandchips.uwa.edu.au/project.html (accessed May 2004). 52 Alison Abbott, ‘Laboratory Animals: The Renaissance Rat’, Nature, 428 (2004), pp. 464–6. 53 Kerstin Linbad-Toh, ‘Genome Sequencing: Three’s Company’, Nature, 428 (2004), pp. 475–6. 54 Andy Coghlan, ‘Rat Genome Reveals Supercharged Evolution’, New Scientist, 31 March 2004. 55 The population of laboratory animals in the United States in 1978 was put at 90 million, with about 50 million mice and 20 million rats. 56 William Paton,