Portrait of Professor Karen Jones

Professor Karen Jones

Professor of Environmental and Cultural History


Professor Karen Jones earned her doctorate from the University of Bristol, and worked as a teaching fellow at the University of Essex, before arriving at Kent in 2004. She is a 19th-century specialist with particular interests in environmental and cultural history.

Research interests

Karen is an enthusiastic supporter of environmental history, landscape history and animal studies. Her books include Wolf Mountains: The History of Wolves Along the Great Divide (2002) – a comparative study of the biology, mythology and culture surrounding wolves in national parks in the Rockies  – and The Invention of the Park (2005), a survey of the park idea from the Garden of Eden to British landscape parks and beyond. 

Karen was awarded the James Bradley Fellowship at the Montana Historical Society (2004-5) for her research on hunting and conservation in late 19th-century Montana. She earned fellowships at the Autry Museum, Los Angeles (2012) and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody (2013) for projects on horses and war in the 19th century and on taxidermy and the 'afterlife' of hunting animals. 

Co-author of a post-revisionist monograph on the American West (The American West: Competing Visions, 2009), she explored the popular appeal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, cowboy mythology, women on the frontier, and the conservation movement. 

Since then, she has published on national parks and transnational nature conservation (Civilizing Nature (2012)), co-edited a collection on guns and empire in the nineteenth century (A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire (2013)), and written on hunting and photography (Wild Things: Nature and the Social Imagination (2013)). Karen’s latest monograph – Epiphany in the Wilderness: Hunting, Nature and Performance in the American West (University Press of Colorado, 2015) – looks at the environmental and cultural imprint of hunting on the western frontier, with particular focus on animal encounter, ritual and storytelling, and gender tropes and transgressions. Her forthcoming book, Calamity: The Many Lives of Calamity Jane, will be published by Yale University Press in 2020. 

Her current research interests include hunting, taxidermy and the interior ecologies of animal display (with Quex Park) and city parks: histories of health, space, and wellbeing in the urban metabolic landscape (funded by the Wellcome Trust).


Karen teaches on environmental and social history in modern Britain and on global animal history.


Karen is interested in supervising postgraduates who want to work on any aspect of environmental history or animal studies. 


Always eager to find a reason to talk about animals, green spaces and landscape stories, Karen has worked with various public and media organisations, from Parks Canada to the BBC. She is the editor of the journal Environment and History



  • Jones, K. (2018). ’The Lungs of the City’: Green Space, Public Health and Bodily Metaphor in the Landscape of Urban Park History. Environment and History [Online] 24:39-58. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3197/096734018X15137949591837.
    New machinery, factory systems and a burgeoning population made the nineteenth century the era of the city. It also represented the coming of age of the city park. Across Europe and North America, elite spaces were opened to public access and new areas dedicated as ‘parks for the people.’ This paper offers a brief tour of green spaces across three iconic metropolitan sites – London, Paris and New York - to consider how the axioms of recreation, industrial modernity and public health operated in specific urban contexts. Of particular note is the fact that park planners embraced an holistic vision, often articulated via bodily metaphors, that incorporated both social and environmental aspects: thus behind apparently nostalgic visions for a pre-industrial bucolic greenery lay irrefutably modern approaches to urban planning that presaged twenty and twenty-first century holistic experiments in garden cities and ‘living homes.’ Also central to this study is the idea of the park as a liminal space and an eminently readable landscape: an evolving site of translation, negotiation and transformation that highlights the fertile ground of cross-disciplinary study and the benefits of a complex ecological history that involves close examination of place, action and imagery.
  • Jones, K. (2017). The Story of Comanche: Horsepower, Heroism and the Conquest of the American West. War and Society [Online] 36:156-181. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07292473.2017.1356588.
    Marked by the Census Bureau’s closure of the frontier; the symbolic end of American Indian resistance at Wounded Knee and powerful articulations on the ‘winning of the West’ from Frederick Jackson Turner and Buffalo Bill Cody, the early 1890s was a critical moment in the history of the American West. It also saw the death of one of the region’s most famous cavalry horses, Comanche, who succumbed to colic in 1891 aged twenty-nine. Famously billed as ‘the only living thing to survive the Battle of the Little Bighorn’, this article uses Comanche as a locus around which to examine the history of warhorses in the military culture of the American West, and, more broadly, to point towards a growing scholarship on war and the environment that emphasises the usefulness of such themes as spatiality and inter-species exchange in embellishing our understanding of the experience, impact and cultural memory of war. Not only does Comanche’s lifespan (c.1862–1891) usefully coincide with the federal government’s final conquest of the West but his equine biography serves as valuable testament to the use of horses in the US military as both practical and symbolic agents of American expansionism.
  • Jones, K. (2017). Restor(y)ing the ‘Fierce Green Fire’: Animal Agency, Wolf Conservation and Environmental Memory in Yellowstone National Park. British Journal for the History of Science: Themes [Online] 2:151-168. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1017/bjt.2017.5.
    This paper tracks human-animal entanglements through one particular species, Canis lupus, the wolf, with a view to exploring how this contested predator might be used to unpack normative assumptions about wildlife science, conservation practice and storytelling. The focus of attention here is on Yellowstone National Park and the century-long struggle to eradicate and then restore the wolf based on the shifting rubrics of science and environmental ethics. The ‘wild heart’ of North America and an epicentre of scientific and popular environmental mythology, Yellowstone presents a useful terrain (both material and contextual) in which to theorise the wolf as an environmental agent and explore its special provenance within an evolving narrative of ecological science. More specifically, the landmark story of restor(y)ation that played out in the national park serves to illuminate the complex web of temporality, narrative and memory that frames our configurations of animal agency. Wiped out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and ruminated on in the interwar period, the wolf was returned to ancestral haunts in the 1990s (to great fanfare) as a charismatic poster animal for environmental consciousness and a vital ‘missing link’ in the psychological and biotic fabric of the landscape. Ornamented with what conservationist Aldo Leopold famously called a ‘fierce green fire,’ the wolf became a carrier animal for Yellowstone’s environmental memory, transporting with it the fates of other threatened species and the promise of an enlightened Ecological Age. Beneath this teleological tale of expanding biological knowledge and ethical awakening lies a convoluted (and interesting) story that reveals the sinuous connections between the material and the imagined animal as well as the challenges and the complexities of reading non-human traces.
  • Jones, K. (2016). The Rhinoceros and the Chatham Railway: Taxidermy and the Production of Animal Presence in the "Great Indoors.” History [Online] 101:710-735. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.12325.
    This article considers the practice of taxidermy and its relationship to the ‘golden age’ of big game hunting, the science of natural history and the dramaturgical codes of empire by looking at the collecting exploits of one man, Major Percy Powell-Cotton (1866–1940), and his attempts to preserve the spoils of the hunt in the ‘great indoors’. As various scholars have pointed out, taxidermy offers up a vivid and striking ‘afterlife’ of the animal with a unique (and some might say unsavoury) ability to elucidate our environmental and cultural relations with other species. As such, the reanimated animals of empire, posed on the walls of the country estate or arrested in museum cases, represent valuable historical artefacts ripe for unstitching. Drawing on the work of Garry Marvin, Sam Alberti and Merle Patchett, this article stalks Powell-Cotton's taxidermic project across various sites of capture, production and display (what I call necrogeographies) to illuminate the sinuous contours of imperial natural history and the stories of pursuit, production and performance lurking beneath the skin of the reanimated animal.
  • Jones, K. (2012). ‘Lady Wildcats and Wild Women’: Hunting, Gender and the Politics of Show(wo)manship in the Nineteenth century American West. Nineteenth-Century Contexts [Online] 34:37-49. Available at: http://www.dx.doi.org/10.1080/08905495.2012.646547.
    Drawing on codes of Victorian manhood, hunting narratives on the nineteenth century West typically broadcast a hegemonic vision of “hunter heroes”—survivalists, skilled in woodcraft, armed with sharp-shooting skills and a penchant for adventuring. Such men collectively advanced the expansionist ambitions of the American nation in assimilating landscapes and animals while maintaining a gentlemanly moral code. According to this teleology, the frontier was conquered by independent and vigorous frontiersmen, paragons of American manifest destiny and masculinity as exemplified by Theodore Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill Cody.

    Significantly, as this article contends, alongside the masculine “hunter-hero” of the plains and mountains, women emerged as willing and competent participants in shooting adventures and also embraced the thrill of the chase. They also hunted for reasons of environmental subsistence, the securing of meat an essential part of the mechanics of household economics. Some saw hunting as a hearty recreational activity that assisted their sense of belonging in terms of selfhood, space and community. As I argue, here, the allure of the West and its associations with adventuring, strenuous activity and escapism held appeal for some women as well as men. Moreover, in the domain of performance, theatre and storytelling, ideas of the “lady adventurer” and the “armed western woman” gained sizeable popular currency.
  • Jones, K. (2011). Writing the Wolf: Canine Tales and North American Environmental-Literary Tradition. Environment and History [Online] 17:201-228. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3197/096734011X12997574042964.
    This article considers the construction of the wolf in North American environmental literature and history. Emphasis is placed on illustrating how writings about Canis lupus relate to shifting evaluations of wild nature and ethical responsibilities towards the non-human. It further reflects upon the limits to ‘knowing’ other species, as well as the struggle between amateurs and professionals in the quest to be seen as authorities in zoological expertise. An intensely symbolic animal, the wolf has always been a popular character in folklore, a creature representative of our fears and our idealisations of wilderness. Although the rehabilitation of the wolf in twentieth-century America is conventionally framed in terms of the rise of ecological science, of the wolf as a keystone predator and integral part of a healthy ecosystem, the naturalist tradition of storytelling remains another key element in this development. Under scrutiny here are those nature stories that have encouraged a positive attitude towards wolves in North America – from Ernest Thompson Seton in the late 1800s to Asta Bowen a century later. Such works suggest an important role for the storyteller as an educator in environmental values and contest the dominant paradigm of scientific observation as the ‘saviour’ of the wolf.
  • Jones, K. (2010). From Big Bad Wolf to Ecological Hero: Canis Lupus and the Culture(s) of Nature in the American-Canadian West. American Review of Canadian Studies 40:338-350.
  • Jones, K. (2010). ‘My Winchester spoke to her’: Crafting Montana as a hunter’s paradise, c.1870-1910. American Nineteenth Century History [Online] 11:183-203. Available at: http://www.dx.doi.org/10.1080/14664658.2010.481871.
    This article considers the construction of the Northern Rockies as a hunter’s paradise in the latter years of the nineteenth century. It explores the crafting of the region as a game utopia by a cadre of hunter?tourists, whose writings of what I term “fictionalized reality” celebrated the Rockies as an American Serengeti for sports and a realm of pioneer exoticism. Significantly, it argues that hunting became far more than an exercise in imperial tourism, instead representing a regenerative mechanism through which the sportsman emerged from the game trail, firstly as an exemplar of American masculinity, and secondly, as a fully?fledged westerner. Stories of nature red in tooth and the “hunter?hero” thus effectively obscured the political and economic realities of frontier assimilation to present the West as one vast playground for entertainment, adventuring and honorable violence. The article discusses the engagement between hunter and hunted, taking in themes of western tourism, codes of manhood, nature appreciation, gun?play, and the gaze, before concluding with an analysis of how the “storied past” of hunting literature, photography, and taxidermy broadcast a strident identity for the Northern Rockies that persists to this day.
  • Jones, K. (2010). "The Old West in Modern Splendor”: Frontier Folklore and the Selling of Las Vegas. European Journal of American Culture [Online] 29:93-110. Available at: http://www.dx.doi.org/10.1386/ejac.29.2.93_1.
    Las Vegas is customarily seen as a postmodern city of fantasy and simulation, a place where history and geography scarcely matter. In this article I argue instead that Las Vegas might be usefully described as a frontier city. When civic boosters sought to first sell their town as a tourist paradise it was the iconography of the American West that captivated public interest. In a place that invented theming, the frontier represented the original blueprint. Even when Las Vegas moved away from a western aesthetic, it continued to subscribe to a frontier mantra. Its culture of gambling resonated with ideas of individualism, risk, freedom and adventuring, while the constant reinvention of the city pointed towards a vertical frontier to match Frederick Jackson Turner's horizontal rubric.
  • Jones, K. (2003). ’Never Cry Wolf’ Science, sentiment and the literary rehabilitation of Canis lupus. Canadian Historical Review [Online] 84:65-93. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3138/CHR.84.1.65.
    A shepherd Boy was watching his flock near the village and was bored. He thought it would be great fun to pretend that a Wolf was attacking the sheep, so he cried out Wolf! Wolf! and the villagers came running. He laughed and laughed when they discovered there was no Wolf. He played the trick again. And then again. Each time the villagers came, only to be fooled. Then one day a Wolf did come and the Boy cried out Wolf! Wolf! But no one answered his call. They thought he was playing the same games again.


  • Jones, K. (2015). Epiphany in the Wilderness: Hunting, Nature, and Performance in the Nineteenth-Century American West. [Online]. Colorado University Press. Available at: https://upcolorado.com/university-press-of-colorado/item/2742-epiphany-in-the-wilderness.
    Whether fulfilling subsistence needs or featured in stories of grand adventure, hunting loomed large in the material and the imagined landscape of the nineteenth-century West. Epiphany in the Wilderness explores the social, political, economic, and environmental dynamics of hunting on the frontier in three “acts,” using performance as a trail guide and focusing on the production of a “cultural ecology of the chase” in literature, art, photography, and taxidermy. Using the metaphor of the theater, Jones argues that the West was a crucial stage that framed the performance of the American character as an independent, resourceful, resilient, and rugged individual. The leading actor was the all-conquering masculine hunter hero, the sharpshooting man of the wilderness who tamed and claimed the West with each provident step. Women were also a significant part of the story, treading the game trails as plucky adventurers and resilient homesteaders and acting out their exploits in autobiographical accounts and stage shows. Epiphany in the Wilderness informs various academic debates surrounding the frontier period, including the construction of nature as a site of personal challenge, gun culture, gender adaptations and the crafting of the masculine wilderness hero figure, wildlife management and consumption, memorializing and trophy-taking, and the juxtaposition of a closing frontier with an emerging conservation movement.
  • Jones, K. and Wills, J. (2009). The American West: Competing Visions. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Jones, K. and Wills, J. (2005). The Invention of the Park: From the Garden of Eden to Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Jones, K. (2002). Wolf Mountains: A History of Wolves Along the Great Divide. Calgary: University of Calgary Press.

Book section

  • Jones, K. (2017). Annie Get Your Gun: Women, Performance and the Western Heroine. In: The Second Amendment and Gun Control: Freedom, Fear and the American Constitution. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 36-47.
    This chapter destabilizes the conventional narrative of smoking guns and masculine heroism in the construction of America’s frontier mythology to explore how western women seized the agency of firearms for themselves. More specifically, I look here at two prominent characters in the ‘winning of the West’ – Martha Canary (Calamity Jane) and Annie Oakley - to examine how two women came to take on the mantle of gun-toting heroines and how their stage presence added colour and contest to the frontier story. Both pointed, firstly, to a tradition of firearms use among pioneer women for whom skill with a rifle promised security and sustenance in remote climes. Moreover (and this is the principal focus here) the gun became a critical prop in the theatrical routines of Oakley and Canary as they developed their own cultures of celebrity in the latter years of the 1800s
  • Sleigh, C. (2015). "Only a spectacle”: frogs and the environmental crisis. In: Jones, K. R., Sleigh, C., Nagai, K., Mattfeld, M. and Rooney, C. R. eds. Cosmopolitan Animals. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
    In what ways can we conceptualise cosmopolitanisms which are not solely human? What does it take to embrace other animals as fellow creatures; where and how are such relationships made possible? With a preface by Donna Haraway, Cosmopolitan Animals is the first edited collection to place the question of animals at the centre of cosmopolitical inquiry. Drawing upon recent scholarship on cosmopolitanism and animal studies, the volume asks what new possibilities and permutations of cosmopolitanism can emerge by taking seriously our sharing, co-existing and 'becoming-with' animals. Edited by a team of six, and featuring chapters by leading scholars from a wide range of disciplines, this collective effort examines knots of human-animal relationships from different angles. It is argued that animals are important players in cosmopolitics, and that worldliness is far from being a human monopoly.
  • Jones, K. (2015). Introduction - Companionship. In: Nagai, K., Jones, K. R., Mattfeld, M., Rooney, C. R. and Sleigh, C. eds. Cosmopolitan Animals. Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 135-137.
  • Jones, K. (2015). From the Field to the Frontier: Hounds, Hunting and the Canine-Human Alliance. In: Nagai, K., Rooney, C., Landry, D., Mattfeld, M., Sleigh, C. and Jones, K. eds. Cosmopolitan Animals. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, pp. 167-180. Available at: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781137376275.
  • Jones, K. (2015). Writing the Wolf: Canine Tales and North American Environmental-Literary Tradition. In: Masius, P. and Sprenger, J. eds. A Fairytale in Question: Historical Interactions Between Humans and Wolves. Cambridge: White Horse Press, pp. 175-202.
  • Jones, K. (2013). Unpacking Yellowstone: The American National Park in Global Perspective. In: Gissibl, B., Hohler, S. and Kupper, P. eds. Civilizing Nature: A Global History of National Parks. Oxford: Berghahn Books, pp. 31-49.
  • Bowman, T. (2013). Irish paramilitarism and gun cultures. In: Jones, K. R., Macola, G. and Welch, D. eds. A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire. Ashgate.
  • Macola, G. (2013). “They Disdain Firearms”: The Relationship Between Guns and the Ngoni of Eastern Zambia to the Early Twentieth Century. In: Jones, K. R., Macola, G. and Welch, D. eds. A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire. Surry / Burlington: Ashgate, pp. 101-128.
  • Beckett, I. (2013). Retrospective Icon: The Martini-Henry. In: Jones, K. R., Macola, G. and Welch, D. eds. A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire. Surry / Burlington: Ashgate, pp. 233-250.
  • Jones, K. (2013). Guns, Masculinity and Marksmanship: Codes of Killing and Conservation in the Nineteenth-Century American West. In: Jones, K. R., Macola, G. and Welch, D. eds. A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 39-56.
  • Jones, K. (2013). ”Hunting with the Camera”: Photography, Animals and the Technology of the Chase in the Rocky Mountains. In: Beinart, W., Middleton, K. and Pooley, S. eds. Wild Things: Nature and the Social Imagination. Knapwell: White Horse Press, pp. 24-43.
  • Jones, K., Macola, G. and Welch, D. (2013). Introduction:New Perspectives on Firearms in the Age of Empire. In: Jones, K. R., Macola, G. and Welch, D. eds. A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire. Ashgate, pp. 1-13. Available at: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781409447528.
  • Jones, K. (2003). ’Way out West…Ghost towns, gray wolves, territorial prisons and more!’ Celebrating the wolf in the new west. In: Nicholas, L., Bapis, E. M. and Harvey, T. J. eds. Imagining the Big Open: Nature, Identity and Play in the New West. Salt Lake City, US: Utah University Press, pp. 27-44.

Edited book

  • Jones, K., Nagai, K., Landry, D., Sleigh, C. and Rooney, C. (2015). Cosmopolitan Animals. [Online]. Jones, K. R., Nagai, K., Landry, D., Sleigh, C., Mattfeld, M. and Rooney, C. R. eds. Palgrave MacMillan. Available at: https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781137376275.
  • Jones, K., Macola, G. and Welch, D. (2013). A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire. [Online]. Jones, K. R., Macola, G. and Welch, D. eds. Ashgate. Available at: http://www.ashgate.com/isbn/9781409447528.
    Firearms have been studied by imperial historians mainly as means
    of human destruction and material production. Yet, as suggested
    by constructivist approaches to the history of technology, firearms have always been invested with a whole array of additional social meanings. By placing these latter at the centre of analysis, the essays presented in A Cultural History of Firearms in the Age of Empire extend the study of guns beyond the confines of military history and the examination of their impact on specific colonial encounters. By bringing cultural perspectives to bear on the subject, the contributors explore the densely interwoven relationships between firearms and broad processes of social change.
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