Summer Conference 2020

Animal History Online: Borders and Boundaries

An Online Event
Friday 19 June
13.30 – 19.00 BST (UTC+1)

Join us on Friday 19 June for an afternoon of online animal history! We’ll have two panels of diverse papers on the theme of borders and boundaries in animal history, followed by a keynote lecture from Professor Abigail Woods. The event will conclude with a forum – a chance to meet each other, find out what we’re all working on and have an informal discussion about the field.

Previous Animal History Group conferences have been wonderfully international events, and we hope that Animal History Online will continue that trend. Whilst an online event collapses the barrier of physical distance, however, it also unfortunately expounds the barrier of time zones! The programme is given in UK timings, but we hope that, wherever you’re based, there will be parts you’ll be able to join us for if not the whole event.

Delegate packs and meeting links will be sent directly to all registered attendees a few days before the event – book your place at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/animal-history-online-borders-and-boundaries-tickets-104642071252?ref=estw.

Provisional programme

13.30 – 15.00: Panel One: Pre-modern histories

Camel-centric relationships between nomadic and sedentary peoples in Roman Syria and Arabia
Josef Bloomfield, Prospective DPhil student, Oxford, Autumn 2020

Beehives on the Border of Humanity: The Monks of Skellig Michael
Corey Wrenn, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Kent

Royal Animals
Ellinor Gray, Curatorial Intern (Decorative Arts), Royal Collection Trust

Animal domestication and the human-animal difference in Buffon’s Natural History
Dario Galvao, PhD student in Philosophy, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and University of Sao Paulo

15.00 – 15.30: Break

15.30 – 17.00: Panel Two: Modern histories

What Can Merino Sheep Tell About the Ottoman Empire? Breed, Infrastructure, and Local Markets in the Balkans and Western Anatolia, 1800-1850
Anil Askin (Anıl Aşkın), PhD Student, Department of History, Brown University

‘the creatures He made’: Animal Welfare in Salvation Army Literature, c. 1890–1930
Flore Janssen, Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

‘Desperate Diseases Require Desperate Remedies’: intercommunity cooperation and the interwar investigation of inherited deafness in Bull Terriers
Alison Skipper, PhD student, Kings’ College London

Animal Histories in the Dead of Night
Andy Flack, Lecturer in Modern and Environmental History, University of Bristol

17.00 – 17.15: Break

17.15 – 18.00: Keynote

Edward Jenner’s zoological perspective: A new history of vaccination
Abigail Woods, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Arts, University of Lincoln

18.00 – 19.00: Animal History Forum

 To conclude Animal History Online, the Forum will be a more informal zoom catch-up. This is a great opportunity to meet the other attendees, find out what we’re all working on, and have a conversation about the field of animal history.

If you have a proposal for a question you’d like to add to the discussion, let us know via:

Twitter:   @AnimalHistories

Email:     animalhistorygroup@gmail.com

Full Programme (with abstracts)

13.30 – 15.00: Panel One: Pre-modern histories

TBC: Camel-centric relationships between nomadic and sedentary peoples in Roman Syria and Arabia
Josef Bloomfield, Prospective DPhil student, Oxford, Autumn 2020

In this paper I examine the relationship between nomadic and sedentary peoples in Roman Syria and Arabia through the intermediary point of the dromedary camel. There is a wide range of evidence available for camel-centric interactions in the Roman period, from Pliny’s encyclopaedic accounts to nomadic rock drawings. One often overlooked piece of evidence is the Palmyrene Tax Tariff, a tariff set up by the Palmyrene boule in AD 137 that sought to regulate goods imported into and exported from the caravan city. Camels are mentioned repeatedly throughout the text; however, there has been very little work on the human relationships that the presence of the dromedary camels necessitated. Whilst the tax tariff provides a sedentary perspective on nomadic-sedentary relations, the nomadic perspective is provided by the tens of thousands of Safaitic graffiti that cover the stones of the ḥarrah, the basalt desert of north-eastern Jordan and southern Syria. By using both sets of inscriptions to complement one another, I shall argue that the camel was at the very centre of nomadic-sedentary relations. Nomads had to negotiate the fine balancing act between interacting with sedentary peoples in a beneficial way, such as in trade, and avoiding the need of the sedentary state to control and regulate the nomads whenever possible. The dromedary, perhaps paradoxically, both brought nomads under the control of the state and allowed them to largely remain free from state control.

Beehives on the Border of Humanity: The Monks of Skellig Michael
Corey Wrenn, Lecturer in Sociology, University of Kent

In the early middle ages, a community of Irish monks constructed a monastery outpost on the lonely Skellig Michael just off shore of County Kerry. The island is small, rocky and dangerous. Monastery paths lead inhabitants and visitors along perilous cliffs and peaks. It was (and is) a geography better suited to birds than bipeds, and intentionally so as the site was chosen for its ability to humble. Its location in the Atlantic Ocean complicated monastery life even further, ensuring a stringent detachment from human society. Indeed, the location was intentionally chosen for its remote location on the farthest edge of known Christendom. These Skelligs were the literal boundary land between the known and the unknown, spiritual and worldly, life and death, and human and nonhuman. Pilgrimages to the monastery allowed visitors to transverse these boundaries. Having abandoned human society and the luxuries of civilization, the monks’ lives were animal-like, brutish and short. This return to nature and relinquishment of human privileges was seen as the path to union with God. Today, the site has fully returned to Nonhuman Animals, and many seabirds now call the stone houses home. Indeed, this Christian outpost is now deemed an important bird area and is protected as a nature reserve. In this presentation, I discuss how the Skellig Michael experiment demonstrated a reversal in the medieval human’s desire to disassociate from their animality. These monks lived as animals among animals. As Western society transitioned from animist paganism to anthropocentric Christianity, the Skellig Michael outpost (which survived into the 1300s) offers a fascinating glimpse into the social construction of humanity. Ireland typifies the blurring of human and nonhuman and bricolage of ideological practices old and new in the interim “dark ages” of Europe.

Royal Animals
Ellinor Gray, Curatorial Intern (Decorative Arts), Royal Collection Trust

The British Royal Family have kept exotic animals for centuries. From Kew to Kensington and Windsor to Buckingham Palace animals were kept to demonstrate power and wealth and were frequently traded as diplomatic gifts. With menageries at some of the royal palaces open to the public, animals sometimes became unwitting representatives for the monarch and were used in visual and literary satire, from Queen Charlotte’s zebra to George IV’s giraffe. This private yet public arrangement became even more pronounced when the animals were permanently relocated to the Zoological Society of London by William IV. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ‘collections’ of animals were readily transported across oceans as official gifts for members of the Royal Family and became a symbol of British imperial power and a centre of patriotic sensibility. People flocked to see the ‘royal’ animals at the zoological gardens which significantly boosted visitor numbers for the society.

Every monarch since William IV has been the patron of ZSL, showing the continued interest in exotic animals. The motivation behind keeping animals and their ownership by royalty has since changed and now many members of the royal family count animal conservation as an important part of their charitable work.

This paper will examine the complex relationship between exotic animals and the British Royal Family through history, discussing the physical borders crossed to own animals and the change in our treatment of other species from beast to be owned and dominated to creatures worth saving.

Animal domestication and the human-animal difference in Buffon’s Natural History
Dario Galvao, PhD student in Philosophy, University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and University of Sao Paulo

This paper discusses animal domestication and its relation with the boundary between human and animal natures in Buffon’s Natural History. In this extensive work, published in forty-four volumes between 1749 and 1804, we find two opposite opinions about domestication: it may be seen as the ennoblement of the animal nature or the degeneration of it. Buffon’s considerations about the perfectibility of dogs as a result of their relationship with humans provide an example of the first kind of opinion. His text about wild animals (HN, VI, 1756) provides examples of the second one. In my presentation I approach these opposite opinions with two objectives: First, to show that they do not represent a contradiction in Buffon’s thinking; second, to show that both opinions lead us to a conception of the human-animal difference which is less radical than the one we find in other texts in his Natural History, notably the Natural History of Man (HN, II, 1749) and the Discourse on the Nature of Animals (HN, IV, 1753). In these last two, Buffon suggests that man and animal are distinct, as much as spirit is distinct from matter. By these means, he proposes what we can understand as a renewal of the Cartesian animal-machine theory. Nevertheless, in his considerations about domestication, whether as perfectibility or degeneration, he considers an animal intelligence, and the human-animal difference seems to shift, since it is now based on the capacity to domesticate other species.

15.00 – 15.30: Break

15.30 – 17.00: Panel Two: Modern histories

What Can Merino Sheep Tell About the Ottoman Empire? Breed, Infrastructure, and Local Markets in the Balkans and Western Anatolia, 1800-1850
Anil Askin (Anıl Aşkın), PhD Student, Department of History, Brown University

 This paper engages with the question of boundaries in and of animal histories from a scale-sensitive perspective. First, globally, merino sheep was kept as a state secret in the Spanish empire until the eighteenth century and its wool had been worked in the textile mills of industrial capitalism. Recent works on the history of merino sheep show that merino breeding and wool production had been part of empire building and colonial expansion by looking at the cases of New England, South Africa, Australasia, Western Europe, and the Western Mediterranean. Benefiting extensively from archival sources, I contribute to this global canvas by discussing yet underexplored merino breeding practices in the Ottoman empire in the first half of the nineteenth century. My findings suggest that the centering the story on merino sheep invites historians to rethink different spaces of breeding which were often assigned the leader (Western Europe) and the follower (non-West) roles in economic history.

Second, regionally, I note two things. One, the Ottoman interest in exporting merino sheep coincided both with heavy military reforms but also steep increase in wool prices in the international markets in the 1820s. Two, merchants, bureaucrats and consuls were the prime agents of this endeavor who extensively corresponded about the quality of wool as well as the feasibility of breeding merino in the empire.

Third, on the micro scale, I note that the logistics of day-to-day care of merino sheep was instituted on top of the existing infrastructure of provisioning for Istanbul. Merino sheep introduced new modes of veterinary care and herd management because of their economic and genetic value, which also made classification and documentation of local breeds in parts of the empire more visible because of undertaking reproduction most “efficiently”. Last, this micro context is also conducive to draw a micro-ecological cosmos by documenting and discussing the materials obtained from local markets to heal fungal and bacterial diseases that merino sheep suffered.

‘the creatures He made’: Animal Welfare in Salvation Army Literature, c. 1890–1930
Flore Janssen, Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

Breaking down artificial barriers and boundaries between people across social divides was an important part of The Salvation Army’s mission and practice from its earliest beginnings; but Salvation Army sources from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflect that this doctrine of compassion also extended to animals. The organisation and its members engaged with several contemporary ideas and campaigns linked to animal welfare such as vegetarianism, anti-vivisection, and the prevention of cruelty to animals. These arguments are particularly relevant to The Salvation Army’s interest in anti-vivisection. In the 1890s, the social publication Darkest England Gazette featured a series of articles by prominent anti-vivisection campaigner Edith Carrington who explained why Christians should oppose vivisection. She argued that it ran counter to the relationship between humans and animals established in Genesis: God gave people the right to make use of His other creatures, but not to abuse them. Furthermore, she pointed to the risk that allowing vivisection on animals would lead to transgressions of the boundaries between animals and humans as physicians might be tempted to experiment on their patients. Lastly, she stated that Christians, who had God to support them through the experience of pain and illness, should not desire fellow creatures to be sacrificed for medical advancement.

This paper will explore how a combination of practical and spiritual considerations informed The Salvation Army’s stance on animal welfare as it expanded its social influence as a church and charity.

 ‘Desperate Diseases need Desperate Measures’: international intercommunity collaboration and the investigation of canine inherited disease.
Alison Skipper, PhD student, Kings’ College London

In 1920s colonial India, an enthusiastic group of expatriate British officials occupied themselves by breeding Bull Terriers. Their pastime was blighted, however, because many of the dogs they imported from ‘Home’ subsequently proved to be congenitally deaf. These fanciers were highly motivated to investigate the problem, but lacked the knowledge to do so effectively; Bull Terrier breeders in Britain, in contrast, had largely ignored the issue, despite their proximity to the Animal Breeding Research Farm at the University of Edinburgh. Yet this encounter led to a synergistic international collaboration of fanciers, doctors, and scientists, who together created the first organised intercommunity investigation into canine inherited disease.

Some of these varied contributors were keen to improve canine health, while others wanted to find an animal model for congenital deafness in people. All shared a common determination to elucidate the inheritance of deafness with the aim of eliminating it from subsequent generations, informed by contemporary eugenic ideas of population improvement. Historical accounts of the construction and circulation of scientific, medical and veterinary knowledge often focus on professional networks, but the serendipitous links that form through common interest in particular dog breeds or diseases readily bridge geographical, species, disciplinary and professional/amateur boundaries. By drawing attention to these interactions, I suggest that this project both offers particular insight into the co-construction of knowledge within and beyond the academy, through emphasising the pivotal significance of liminal breeder-scientists in driving these complex initiatives, and offers a forgotten yet historically significant addition to the ‘One Health’ narrative. Yet, although this collaboration bridged multiple boundaries, its success was ultimately constrained – by the biological attributes of the very canine bodies that first drove its creation.

Animal Histories in the Dead of Night
Andy Flack, Lecturer in Modern and Environmental History, University of Bristol

In the post-war period, an increasing number of publications appeared, including the eponymous Maxwell Knight’s 1956 Animals After Dark, which encouraged both amateur and professional naturalists to study nocturnal species, providing key information and practical advice on engaging with the wild night. This is not to say that there had not been previous works with similar intentions, but they presented significant challenges because technology was neither advanced nor accessible enough to allow most people to study the night-time world. Indeed, American naturalist Orlando Park referenced this in a seminal 1940 paper as the ‘Nocturnal Problem’, in which he identified an array of barriers that had prevented effective study of the night-time natural world and proposed a research program to advance human knowledge of this kind of environment.

The ‘nocturnal problem’ appears to have largely persisted over the past eighty years as life scientists generally turned a blind eye to nature at night (Kevin J. Gaston, 2019). Importantly, animal historians have yet to engage at all with the nocturnal world, despite that fact that more than half of the world’s species are nocturnal in habit. Thus, this paper focuses on the core characteristics of the ‘nocturnal problem’ and examines key features of natural histories of the night that were published in the decades around Orlando Park’s publication. It argues that consideration of histories of human-animal relationships in the dead of night will encourage us to think more broadly about the character of human ideas about and interactions with more-than-human animals in the modern world.

17.00 – 17.15: Break

17.15 – 18.00: Keynote

Edward Jenner’s zoological perspective: A new history of vaccination
Abigail Woods, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Arts, University of Lincoln

Edward Jenner is widely celebrated as the discoverer of the world’s first successful vaccine. His demonstration that inoculation with cowpox could protect against smallpox is viewed as the starting point for the development and worldwide dissemination of vaccination, and the eventual eradication of smallpox. However, despite efforts to situate Jenner in his historical context, and to claim him as an early practitioner of ‘One Health’, commentators have generally failed to grasp the nature of his work on cowpox, and the roles that animals played in it.

Drawing on a close reading of his publications, this paper will argue that initially, Jenner was less concerned with protecting human health than understanding the natural history of cowpox – where it had come from, how it spread, its effects on the body, and the character of the ‘virus’ that caused it. These questions were prompted, and the answers shaped, by the ways in which he and the inhabitants of his rural district lived and worked with animals. They gave rise to a holistic, locally embedded concept of cowpox as a disease originating in horses, spread by humans, and transformed by cows into a condition that offered protection against smallpox.

This concept did not travel well. Metropolitan doctors, who had a less direct relationship with animals and were primarily concerned with advancing human health, questioned Jenner’s natural historical findings and worked to develop vaccination as a human-centred medical procedure. Initially, Jenner fought back by re-embedding cow pox in its local context. Subsequently, country-wide reports of the disease, its propagation outside of bovine bodies, and the threat that others would claim credit for vaccination, led him to focus his writings on its applications to human health. In practice, however, he retained his zoological perspective, exploring the effects of cowpox in other species, and sourcing material for human vaccination from horses.

These findings not only demonstrate how history changes when animals are taken seriously as active participants; they also align social history with historical epidemiology – which indicates that the vaccinia virus used to protect against cowpox probably originated in horsepox.

18.00 – 19.00: Animal History Forum

 To conclude Animal History Online, the Forum will be a more informal zoom catch-up. This is a great opportunity to meet the other attendees, find out what we’re all working on, and have a conversation about the field of animal history.

If you have a proposal for a question you’d like to add to the discussion, let us know via:

Twitter:   @AnimalHistories

Email:     animalhistorygroup@gmail.com