Bred for Perfection by Margaret E. Derry

Bred for Perfection: Shorthorn Cattle, Collies, and Arabian Horses Since 1800 by Margaret E. Derry

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“How did animal breeding emerge as a movement? Who took part and for what reasons? How do the pedigree and market systems work? What light might the movement shed on the assumptions behind human eugenics?

In _Bred for Perfection_, Margaret Derry provides the most comprehensive and accessible book yet published on the human quest to improve and develop livestock.

Derry, herself a breeder and trained historian of science, explores the “triangle” of genetics, eugenics, and practical breeding, focusing on Shorthorn cattle, show dogs and working dogs, and one type of purebred horse, the Arabian.

By examining specific breeders and the animals they produced, she illuminates the role of technology, genetics, culture, and economics in the system of purebred breeding. _Bred for Perfection_ also provides the historical context in which this system arose, adding to our understanding of how domestication works and how our welfare―since the dawn of time―has been intertwined with the lives of animals.”

‘”The best [purebred] animals in the world have always been bred for the love of them or the love of breeding and caring for them, rather than purely for profit” wrote a mid-twentieth-century Collie expert.* Do pure-bred breeders really produce animals more for the joy of breeding than for the money they generate?

This book attempts to answer that question, and others as well, by examining the history, over two centuries in Britain and North America, of three breeds: Shorthorn cattle, Collie dogs, and Arabian horses. The subject of animal breeding is approached from its center; that is, breeding practices in relation to their supportive structures.

The book outlines what breeders did in actual breeding programs and puts those accounts into a historical context to help readers understand patterns in purebred breeding, how markets relate to breeding programs, and how a British-American connection could be so significant to the whole system. I hope to demystify the underlying mechanics of modern purebred breeding, giving lay readers an overview of the subject.

Purebreds illustrate how selection by humans can mold animals. But while most people understand the idea of breed purity and its relation to the manipulation of life, many have little appreciation of how purebred breeding works or what drives it.

…The breeding method I discuss began its development in late eighteenth-century Britain. Earlier efforts at “pure” breeding (producing, for example, Pekinese dogs in China, Arabian horses in Arabia, and Greyhounds in Egypt)* did not share certain critical features with this British endeavor. First, even in the beginning, the new method was far more widely used. It affected many breeding operations, not a few isolated ones, and many breeds within different species.

Second, it established a breeding procedure that in the end produced much greater variation in many species than had been seen before. Third, it linked pedigree keeping to breeding methodology in a novel but important wey: by public registry.

At various times before the eighteenth century, some individual breeders kept track of the ancestry of animals they bred themselves, but these were isolated personal records. (Early Arabian horse breeding was an exception to this pattern; animal genealogy was preserved over generations by word of mouth.) Public pedigrees collected in writing the ancestry of animals belonging to a “breed” from many breeding programs over extended periods.

Extensive pedigree keeping of this nature allowed for the development of more clearly defined breed types and led to a global spread of breed varieties.

The system resulted in the creation of highly marketable animals, certified to be true to a clearly specified breed type based on registered pedigrees that record the animals’ ancestral background in public studbooks.’

“In this engaging and carefully researched book… Derry admirably exposes the foibles and eccentricities of pedigree breeders and discusses the many factors motivating their activities… It is a detailed study of obsession, of the conflict between pedigree and commercial concerns and the unspoken belief among breeders that line breeding animals and line breeding people amounted to much the same thing!”
(Agricultural History Review)

“Derry’s study of animal breeding since 1800 makes a valuable contribution to the series and to the growing field of animal history.”
(Journal of the History of Biology)

“Derry details the intricacies of pedigree recording, which greatly influences breeding decisions, monetary values, and trade. Much of this book reviews the social factors that have impacted pedigreed breeding.”

“An excellent book. In showing how animal improvement served both economic and social purposes, Derry tells much about the nature of human beings.”
(University of Toronto Quarterly)

“In this book, Margaret Derry―pedigree cattle breeder, livestock artist, and historian―explores the improvement of Shorthorn cattle, Collie dogs, and Arabian horses in Britain and North America since the eighteenth century. Though the three breeds are no more alike than chalk and cheese, the same threads run through their histories. Derry ranges widely and with assurance across this many-faceted subject, shedding light on matters hitherto opaque or obscure. Her book is an engaging exploration of the not-always-creative tensions between science, aesthetics, and the profit motive in the history of animal breeding over the last two centuries.”
(John R. Walton, University of Wales, Aberystwyth)

“Offers a succession of fascinating insights that will intrigue even historians with little previous interest in agriculture or sports… Essential reading for anyone interested in the human modification of nature.”
(Technology and Culture)

“This book… fills a substantial gap in scholarship.”
(Paul White British Journal for the History of Science)

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