The horse in European history, 1550-1900
University of Cambridge
Faculty of History
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Mitsuda, T. (2007). The horse in European history, 1550-1900 (doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.16030
The dissertation, which bears the title ‘The horse in European history, 1550-1900’, breaks new ground in our understanding of European history by making sense out of the history of a continent once dominated by and dependent on horses. By placing the horse at the centre, the PhD, which adopts a broadly cultural historical approach, proposes to rise above the blindness of historians living within a post-equine age. Positing the concept of the ‘equine economy’, the thesis strives to comprehend the behaviour and beliefs of those involved within a world – split between the ‘riding’, ‘driving’ and ‘walking’ – in which conflict raged over access to, ownership of, knowledge about, and antipathies towards the horse. Revealing the extent to which the riding classes – who preferred the breeding of saddle horses and whose exalted opinions on equine matters were forged perched high on horseback – exerted a domineering influence over the equine economy, the thesis points to their possession of hippological knowledge, military pride in the cavalry arm, control of state studs, and institutional presence in veterinary schools and equestrian academies as evidence of horsemen’s power, which held firm until at least the end of the eighteenth century. But the thesis argues that, during the course of the nineteenth century, the driving classes, who favoured the breeding of draught horses and whose views were untainted through romantic associations with the ‘noble’ creature, dethroned the rider from his high horse, challenged the notion of ‘rider’s vision’, and consequently altered the nature of the equine economy, so that it better served the needs of wider society. Such was the collective impact of activities like horseracing and the circus (hippodrama), which placed the horse and not the rider on centre stage, that they ultimately prepared the basis on which commerce, agriculture, industry, and science could lay claim to the horse – not as something special, but as a traded product like any other. Even so, the demise of riding and the rise of driving was neither a simple nor linear process, with horsemen responding frequently to the challenges that a new way of looking at horses posed, leading, the thesis argues, to initiatives, such as steeplechase racing and long-distance events, that were designed to re-establish the pre-eminence of horsemen into the late nineteenth century. By the same token, the urban environment, which saw pedestrians enter the fray as opponents of ‘driving’, sparked off fears about the powers that the walking mob could wield, facilitating the revival of ‘riding’ – in the form of mounted police or cavalry – as a useful means of quelling social and political unrest during the same period. Ultimately, the thesis advocates a nuanced approach – which does justice to the variety, diversity and complexity of the role, use and position of the horse within European history – believing that such a holistic perspective allows for a much closer understanding of the dynamics of a world dominated by and dependent on horses.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.16030