Network in Canadian History and Environment Prize for Best Article or Book Chapter
Colleen Campbell & Tina Loo, “Making Tracks: A Grizzly and Entangled History” in Traces of the Animal Past: Methodological Challenges in Animal History, ed. Jennifer Bonnell and Sean Kheraj. University of Calgary Press, 2022: 235-268.
Colleen Campbell and Tina Loo’s powerfully engaging examination of how grizzly bears have historically experienced the world is a study every environmental historian should read. The authors begin their chapter by asking, “What are historians really doing when they study animals?” Using the animal-studies concept of entanglement, the authors decenter the human to foreground instead the non-human animal’s actions. The authors offer new ways to think about animal history while applying innovative, integrative methodologies to a thoughtful consideration of non-human animal lives.
Humans have a long history of tracking animals for various purposes, Campbell and Loo argue. Using locational data for individual grizzlies in the Eastern Slopes of the Rocky Mountains from 1994 to 2004, the authors apply GIS tools to better understand individual grizzly movement, adaptability, and resilience when facing change not of their own design. Importantly, Campbell and Loo do not anthropomorphize the animals they study; instead, they make a case for applying situated knowledge to animal populations. For the Eastern Slopes bears, their movement was a manifestation of their own past experiences and learning to navigate life as it became entwined with humans who occupy their space.
“Making Tracks” masterfully engages with digital humanities, creating an immersive visual experience for their readers. Campbell and Loo seamlessly integrate archival research, scientific analysis on animal behaviour and cognition, and innovative data visualization and mapping techniques. The authors include archives beyond the written, arguing that historians must take scientific and embodied experiences more seriously in our work.
Campbell’s career of observing grizzlies over ten years brings an intimate knowledge of these animal lives to the study. Her observations, experiences, and artistic representations provided a rich database to work with. The chapter ends with personal reflections of grizzly encounters from each author. The blending of personal stories alongside scholarly research is a particular strength of this work. These stories give the example of taking a rest in nature as important to our immersion and our learning. These reflections also offer the perspective that bear encounters are not always fearful.
In centering non-human animals and using location data and GIS tracking, this collaborative study presents a blueprint for the possibilities of historians reaching beyond traditional research avenues and engaging with innovative sources to tell new enriched animal histories.