Full title:

McGhie, H.A. 'Images, Ideas, and Ideals: Thinking with and about Ross's Gull', in Thorsen, L.E., Rader, K.A. and Dodd, A. (eds.), Animals on Display: the Creaturely in Museums, Zoos, and Natural History (Pennsylvania University Press, 2013). pp. 101-127.



McGhie takes the example of 'Ross's Gull' as an instance of the way scientific and cultural and material factors combine in the creation of species. Offering a 'caricature' of scientific discovery in which animals or plants are gradually assimilated into scientic categories through a process of collection, analysis, description and dissemination, McGhie notes that this 'is a gross oversimplification of the complexity of human-animal relationships; how many of the episodes are far more complex and contingent; and how these contingencies influence the development of ideas about animals.' (103)

McGhie charts the various ways in which explorers and scientists came to value the gull as a scientific object. He highlights how the bird's association with nineteenth-century voyages of exploration and empire, the difficulty of reaching and working in arctic locations, and the rarity of the bird itself all contributed to its emergence as a species that was particularly valued by collectors. Travel narratives, depictions of the arctic and of the bird itself, as well as actual specimens combined in the definition of the species. McGhie thereby suggests that  'The example of Ross's gull shows how the apparent "fixity" of the idea of the species, its reputation (as opposed to its material reality), is not really derived from the type specimens.' (120) Rather, he claims, 'a mixture of social, textual, and visual practices that are heavily coloured by cultural phenomena... have influenced how Ross's Gull is understood, just as the (standardized, idealized) bird has influenced human cultural activities.' (122)