Seminar Series 2016/17

25th January 2017 – Professor Karen Sayer, Leeds Trinity University. “Rats and Mice are Dangerous Animals”: Control and Modernity in Rural Britain

A ‘rat does not confine its operations to the district of one local authority. That is the whole danger.’ Lord Lamington.

1900-1950, rat killing was “modernised”: official and county advisors drew on the work of population studies; the killing of rats on farms added the use of anticoagulants to older forms of poisoning, trapping and blocking. New forms of costing quantified the damage done: to farm buildings and machinery through fire; the consumption, soiling and contamination of food, seed and fodder in store; and the risks posed to both animal and human health through disease. This shift paralleled the observation that country rats, though commensal, also travel, and the case for a multi-disciplinary approach was made because of their itinerant habits. When it passed into law, the Rats and Mice (Destruction) Act 1919 therefore covered ships in port, urban and rural environments. As vernacular control came to be supplanted by ‘scientific’ control, each ‘modern’ attempt at rat erasure came to fix traditional agriculture and the country ways of the rat catcher as belonging to times past. Yet, each attempt to control the rat (ancient/modern) demanded that humanity overserve its behaviour, and each period of observation caste it in the role of ‘dangerous animal’, ‘enemy’ (even ‘doing Hitler’s work’ in the Second World War). This is a ratty paper, following the ways of rural rats, and their relationships with humans.

22nd February 2017 – ‘Killing and Caring: Euthanasia in Veterinary Practice’ Dr Andrew Gardiner, University of Edinburgh.

The regular, deliberate killing of patients is unique to veterinary medicine. With companion animals, this commonly takes place as euthanasia, a word deriving from the Greek eu (well) and thanatos (death), and generally taken to mean ‘a good death’, ‘a painless death’ or ‘an easy mode of death’. Euthanasia may be performed as an alternative to futile treatment, or else to alleviate uncontrollable pain or suffering. Euthanasia is seen an extension of care and an act of compassion. However, in veterinary medicine euthanasia is used to describe the act of killing as well as the reason behind it. The term euthanasia can be used to describe the killing of happy, healthy but unwanted animals in a rescue shelter. Such animals can be given a ‘good death’ if we consider euthanasia as a perfectly performed technical procedure rather than, primarily, an act of mercy killing to alleviate suffering. In addition, veterinary killing also includes other kinds of animal for which the term euthanasia is not routinely employed: farm animals are usually ‘slaughtered’, not euthanized; parasites are ‘destroyed’ or ‘eliminated’, never euthanized. Deliberate killing by the veterinarian is therefore more complex than the term euthanasia alone suggests because there are varied forms of veterinary killing.

In this paper, I will explore killing in broad historical perspective. I will show that the mass killing of animals was instrumental in establishing veterinary medicine as a discipline, and that throughout veterinary history, ‘killing and caring’ has constituted an important construct for the veterinary profession, requiring frequent re-negotiation to legitimate the ethics and practice of the act.

22nd March 2017 – ‘Ideal of Unity, Parallel Tracks: Salmonellosis and Comparative Medicine in Britain and America 1870-1970’. Prof. Anne Hardy, Centre for History in Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Comparative medicine, European in origin with outliers in Britain from the later eighteenth century, also emerged in America in the 1880s. Often promoted as an ideal – humans being but one animal species – the medicine of humans and animals in practice remained distinct areas of specialisation.  Although Lise Wilkinson in her as yet solitary historical study of comparative medicine (1992) concluded that the subject ‘continues to prove its worth in ever more sophisticated ways’ (p. 221), her focus on specific developments and achievements in such research masks a less cohesive reality.  Collaborative research and the sharing of intelligence between human and animal medicine never developed into a comprehensive integrated enterprise in Anglo-American science. As recently as 2011, veterinary surgeon Noël Fitzpatrick noted that both doctors and veterinarians are ‘recalcitrant to change’, and that basic lessons in comparative pathology have been forgotten. Disunity is a theme that runs through the literature of comparative medicine/pathology in Britain from at least 1870, for example in specialist journals and in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Comparative Medicine Section.

Against this background, this paper will examine the unity and disunity of medicine as illustrated by work on salmonellosis – a condition which, like influenza, illustrates that unity both through exchange of knowledge as to how the condition and its agents affect both humans and animals, and of how infections pass between humans and animals, yet also offers reminders of persistent difference.  Although the characteristics of infection in humans and animals are fundamentally similar, the aims of human medical and veterinary medicine in dealing with these infections are significantly different.

26th April 2017 – Making Nature: A Discussion with Jack Ashby, Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology.

Jack has a background in zoology and science communication and is currently manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology. A large part of Jack’s work centres on finding ways to integrate the historic natural history collection and museum space into current academic teaching, research and public engagement programmes across the sciences, arts and humanities. However, Jack is also interested in the role of museum collections in the history of the teaching of and public engagement with zoology, as well as how they are viewed today and has recently acted as Natural History Consultant to the Wellcome Collection’s ‘Making Nature: How we see animals’ exhibition.

This session will take the form of an informal discussion, Jack offering insight and comment on his involvement in the project and how he brought his knowledge of the history of taxonomy, museum studies and public engagement together; followed by an opportunity for attendees to ask questions about the process of putting together exhibitions and engaging with public audiences in a museum setting.

24th May 2017 – ‘Collecting Evolution: The Galápagos Expedition that Vindicated Darwin’, Matthew J. James, Department of Geology, Sonoma State University.

My talk chronicles the yearlong scientific collecting expedition to the volcanic Galápagos archipelago in 1905-06 that unintentionally vindicated Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and made the Galápagos Islands the world-class ecotourism destination they are today. By showcasing the islands in his landmark 1859 book On the Origin of Species, Darwin made the Galápagos Islands more than just a museum or showcase of evolution, as they are often described today. Darwin made them the proof of evolution. Galileo’s believers rely on images in telescopes and sketches of stars and planets in the heavens. Einstein’s believers rely on complex mathematical and computational proofs on sheets of paper or computer screens. Yet Darwin’s believers rely on finches and tortoises and iguanas that you can walk among and touch with your bare hands. In the Galápagos, you can reach out and touch evolution.

The vigorous intellectual debate that followed publication of The Origin only strengthened the allure of the Galápagos. One could read the book and vicariously partake in the controversy, or one could go visit the Galápagos and participate in the controversy first hand. In the early summer of 1905, the senior curators at the California Academy of Sciences decided to both read and visit: they would send young collectors to the Galápagos while they themselves stayed home in San Francisco, with the ultimate goal of publishing papers on the results of the expedition. The 17-month 1905-06 scientific collecting expedition was the brainchild of Academy Director and ornithologist Leverett Mills Loomis, who wanted his expedition to be longer in duration and more thorough in its collecting activity than any previous expedition sent to these islands made famous by Darwin. He was right. Loomis was motivated twofold by Darwin, but not in the usual ways. Loomis was acting on the well-founded fear that species in the Galápagos, especially the archipelago’s namesake giant tortoises, were fast disappearing due to human depredation. After delaying the expedition for eight months for lack of a suitable vessel, Loomis finally assembled a hardy group of “eight young men” to work as sailor-scientists to proceed south on the 89-foot schooner Academy to spend a full year collecting in the islands.