This illustrated vignette, created by Frenchman Charles Alexandre Lesueur from studies and specimens on a scientific expedition to Australia in 1807, implies a kind of ‘nuclear family’ setting but contains an impossible mix of Kangaroo Island and King Island emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae minor and Dromaius novaehollandiae baudinianus), and possibly mainland emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae). My graphic additions (extinction marker, more accurate species labelling) highlight the different species depicted in in order to draw attention to the bias and cultural values the illustrator/scientist imposes on his representation of the natural world.
As with other forms of information visualisation (graphs, charts, diagrams), we tend to read these kinds of images as empirical statements of fact – here is a set of specimens depicted ‘in nature’. Do we question whether an emu ‘family’ is structured around a puff-chested male standing protectively over the female, who tends to the young? In fact, male emus craft the nest and incubate the eggs while the females romp around mating with several partners each season.
- Source public domain licensed image via WikiCommons.
- Add extinction markers, taken from classification system used for endangered animals.
- Addition of species names and brief summaries of extinction dates and causes (hunted to extinction). Addition of summary and quotations from contextual research into the cultural history of representing animals, typographically similar to the typesetting of the original illustration.
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