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Working Like a Dog: Canine Labour, Technological Unemployment, and Extinction in Industrialising England

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The turnspit dog, an extinct breed, powered English roasting spits from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries by rotating an apparatus comparable to a hamster wheel. It was not merely a working breed, however. It was an animal labourer. Breeders bred it solely for work. Contemporaries conceived of it as an industrious worker intrinsic to food production. Despite its importance, owners treated it contemptuously due to its utilitarian nature. Cooks replaced the dog with a machine, the smoke-jack, once the latter proved reliable. Rather than repackage it as a companion, the English ceased breeding it due to its inextricable connection with a disparaged trade. Industrialisation’s upheaval triggered the turnspit’s extinction by 1850. Examining its decline explicates how technological unemployment wrought catastrophic change on nonhumans. Elucidating comparable disturbances within cottage industry labour for canines and English workers provides scholars with a more-than-human understanding of industrialisation’s ramifications. Furthermore, uniting animal and labour history reconceives current theorisations of historical animals, affirms working animals’ past contributions and highlights their importance as labourers.

Keywords: England; Industrial Revolution; dogs; energy; labour

Appeared or available online: April 27, 2022

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