It also made it an effective weapon in the Chukchi people’s centuries-long resistance to imperial rule, allowing them indigenous control over most of the Chukchi Peninsula – the only treaty-holders of this kind within the Russian empire. So the Soviet campaign to standardise a breeding program around four ‘desirable’ Arctic canine types not including the Chukchi dog meant more than just curtains for a family pet; it was a direct (and successful) attack on a people’s independence.
Shell’s book is full of similar examples of regimes reacting badly to their populations’ choices, particularly with regard to anything that improved their mobility or ability to communicate: carrier pigeons (there’s a great photo of one with a mobile phone pouch slung round its neck), barges, mules. Elephants, he reveals, were targeted by US bomber planes during the Vietnam War, suspected of transporting Viet Cong cargo beneath the forest canopy; while in late 19th century Britain, there was ‘a pervasive political bias’ against canals and canal people – a major reason for the state’s reliance on and investment in railroad technology was that the railways served stable, stationary town populations, who were less subversive (more middle-class) than the people of the waterways. This is a through overview of a fairly niche area of study.
TRANSPORTATION AND REVOLT: Pigeons, Mules, Canals and the Vanishing Geographies of Subversive Mobility by Jacob Shell; The MIT Press; £22.95 (hardback)
This review was published in the November 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine.