Canaries in the Coal Mine

Photo of Canary

│By Amelie Bonney, Gale Ambassador at the University of Oxford│

Most of us see bright-feathered, warbling canaries as pets, yet these tiny birds were not always just household companions. In the nineteenth century they were used as exceptional risk predictors in mines. This was because they were particularly sensitive to carbon monoxide, a substance which led to numerous mining accidents in the aftermath of industrialisation. Thus, oddly, an increasing reliance on fossil fuels induced a new rapport with nature and animals. The canary’s role in mines became so engrained in the English language that “a canary in the coalmine” is now a well-known phrase, used to refer to early indicators of potential hazards. Gale’s Historical Newspapers allow us to better understand how the canary came to be emblematic of shifting attitudes towards risk during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the English-speaking world.

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The Little Ratters We Know Little About: The A Brief History of the Yorkshire Terrier

By Anna Sikora, Gale Ambassador at NUI Galway
Anna Sikora is a tutor, part-time teacher, and final year PhD student in the Discipline of English, National University of Galway, Ireland. She is examining the works of John Wyndham, author of over 60 short stories and 12 novels, including the famous The Day of The Triffids (1951) and The Midwich Cuckoos (1957). Anna is interested to see when and why science fiction authors began to show an awareness of environmental issues, and how this was demonstrated in their work. She is adopting some of the concepts of environmental criticism (ecocriticism) to ask how environmental concerns are articulated in fiction, and whether literature can, and should, influence our daily environmental choices or the ways in which we interact with the environment.

I hate it when parents do homework for their kids, but the last one tempted me enough to get involved! To deter my 15-year-old from using the plethora of lazily compiled websites cluttered with poorly researched material, I got her onto Gale Primary Sources. Her presentation, according to her history teacher, was beyond impressive. Plus, he could not believe how easily one can now access such primary source materials, and how uniquely valuable they are. The topic was simple: to research the family pet. We have a little Yorkie, so here goes the shortened version of my child’s homework… Today, Yorkies are tiny posh dogs which celebrities like to parade in their bags, grannies hold on their laps, and small kids pet in the park (to the horror of the owners), all forgetting that a terrier is the ultimate working dog: a snappy little ratter originally bred to catch rodents.

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