Discussants: Clare Anderson (Leicester), Richard Drayton (KCL), Nayanika Mathur (Oxford), Simon Schaffer (Cambridge) and Sujit Sivasundaram (Cambridge).
Meetings are on Mondays at 5.15pm in Wolfson Room 1 of the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, University of London.
Convenors: Richard Drayton (KCL), Jen Altehenger (KCL), Toby Green (KCL), Simon Layton (QMUL), David Motadel (LSE), Sarah Stockwell (KCL), Gagan Sood (LSE), John Stuart (Kingston), David Todd (KCL), Jon Wilson (KCL).
In maritime narratives of humans, ships and the sea, animals are too often absent, or marginalised in passing references, despite the fact that ships once carried, and were populated by, all kinds of animals. Horses, mules and other ‘military’ animals crossed the sea to their battlefields, while livestock were brought on-board to be killed and eaten. Sailors and passengers kept animal companions, ranging widely from cats and parrots to ferrets and monkeys. Animal stowaways, such as rats, termites and shipworms, did tremendous damage to ships’ structures and stores, especially during the age of sail. Rats also emerge from the archives as seafarers, ‘colonisers’ and explorers alongside their human counterparts. Moreover, countless animals – seabirds, dolphins, porpoises, etc. – would visit and accompany ships, filling many sea narratives with the wonder of oceanic animal encounters.
The conference seeks to shed fresh light on maritime history by placing animals centre stage. Papers are sought which uncover all aspects of animals’ involvements (and entanglements) with ships and their activities. For instance, what roles did animals play in famous maritime episodes? What were the experiences of animals on board ships, and to what extent is it possible to recover them? In what ways were managing, sharing with, and caring for, animals important concerns of ships’ crews? What were the policies and procedures regarding keeping animals on board, and how did the presence of animals affect maritime practices? Moreover, the conference will explore the impact of sea-faring animals – whether political, economic, cultural, or environmental – as maritime activities have knitted the world ever more closely together. What roles have animals played in colonial encounters and voyages of discovery, for instance? And how have animals functioned as cultural agents as well as commodities?
Liza Verity’s Animals at Sea (2004), a collection of animal photographs from the National Maritime Museum, has demonstrated that pets and animal mascots, affectionately regarded as shipmates, played a significant role in bringing a ship’s human community together. The conference will build on this book, while also going beyond a focus on the role of animals in mediating human shipboard communities to explore animal and human relationships at sea more widely. We call upon the power of story-telling to repopulate maritime history with animals, by telling, and listening to, surprising stories about them.
Papers are invited on (but not limited to) the following topics:
· Methods for recovering the shipboard experiences of animals
· Animal explorers: animals and expeditions by sea
· Animal sightings and encounters: sea birds, dolphins, and other animal visitors
· Politics and ethics of human-animal interactions at sea
· Sea travellers’ tales: animal encounters in diaries, journals and ships’ newspapers
· Visual representations of maritime animals (paintings, carvings, scrimshaw, etc.)
· Sailors as natural historians or zoologists at sea
· Animals and animal products for trade
· Ports and dockyard animal stories
· Whaling, sealing and fishing
· Ships and animal-borne disease
· Animal shipwreck stories
· Animals and ships’ technologies and structures
· Environmental impact of animals travelling by sea
· Ship ecology and interspecies relationships
· Animal superstitions, stories and myths
· Differing approaches to animals across global seafaring cultures
· Animals at sea in literature
· Maritime animals today
Please send a short abstract (200-300 words) for a 20 minute paper to Kaori Nagai (K.Nagai@kent.ac.uk ) by May 15, 2018.
Call for stories
In relation to this conference, we are soliciting maritime stories and anecdotes from members of the public, as well as from writers, artists and scholars. If you have any interesting stories of animal encounters on ships or other memorable maritime animal stories, from oral history, the archives, or elsewhere, please drop a line to K.Nagai@kent.ac.uk ; we would be excited to hear from you. Also, we’d be grateful if you could forward this call for stories to those of your friends who have experience of life at sea. We are hoping to create an online forum to share your stories.
Dr. Kaori Nagai, School of English, University of Kent, CT2 7NX, UK
Part of the Renaissance Skin Project at King’s College London (@RenSkinKCL)
18:00 – 20:00pm, Thu 30 November 2017, Bush House Lecture Theatre 1, 30 Aldwych, London, WC2R 4BG
More porous than skin is the eye. Even if it is not the lamp or the window of the soul, its gaze is revealing of what is inside the skin, of how one creature sees another and its surroundings. The gaze makes worlds. Less porous and less revealing than skin is fur, regarded in the early modern period more as a luxury than a screen on which meaning can be written. This talk is about the special case of the eyes and the fur of dogs as they figure in in the world making of important works in the western tradition from Giotto to Goya
Thomas W. Laqueur is the Helen Fawcett Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. His work has been focused on the history of popular religion and literacy; on the history the body – alive and dead; and on the history of death and memory. He writes regularly for the London Review of Booksand the Threepenny Review, among other journals, and is a founding editor of Representations. Laqueur is a member of both the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences but is most proud of the Mellon Distinguished Humanist Award, the proceeds from which he used as seed money for programmes in religion, human rights, and science studies at Berkeley – all of which are now self-sustaining. His most recent book is The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton, 2016) His current research is on the history of humanitarianism and on dogs in western art.
The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception at 7pm on the 8th floor (north side) of Bush House.
A conference administrator is sought to help oversee conference organisation for ‘Horses & Courts: The Reins of Power, an International Symposium’ to be held at the Wallace Collection in London from 21-23 March 2018. Duties will include managing conference bookings (through EventBrite), providing travel advice for delegates, and answering any other queries from delegates and speakers via email and telephone (beginning in October 2017; heaviest traffic from 1 January until 21-23 March).
The administrator will also be expected to attend the conference on all three days (all expenses paid) and live tweet the proceedings (using the Centre for Studies in the Long Eighteenth Century [CSLEC] twitter account) before, during, and after the 3-day event. They will also be expected to publish 6 blog posts to ensure maximum dissemination and to promote the event to a wide audience; this will provide exceptional opportunities for networking and dissemination for the administrator.
Working hours will be broken down as follows:
Administrative assistance from September 2017
3.5 hours a week for the Autumn term: 3.5 x 12 = 42hrs
Administrative assistance for 1 day a week from start of term in January to 21st March
3.5 hrs a week for 10 weeks = 35 hours
Assistance during the 3 day conference and before, during and after the event
3 days (21 hours)
2 days (14 hours)
This amounts to a total of 112 hours paid at a rate of £17.12 an hour (Grade 6 R.A. rate) = £1,917.44 in total.
Please contact Nicole Willson (email@example.com), cc’ing in Donna Landry (D.E.Landry@kent.ac.uk), if you are interested in this opportunity.
Being Well Together: human-animal collaboration, companionship and the promotion of health and wellbeing (19th-21st September 2018).
Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine (CHSTM).
University of Manchester (UK).
Being Well Together will critically examine the myriad ways humans have formed partnerships with nonhuman species to improve health across time and place. The late twentieth century witnessed the simultaneous rise and diversification of varied entanglements of humans and animals in the pursuit of health and wellbeing. Clinical examples include the use of maggots to treat chronic wounds and the post-surgical use of leeches to aid healing. In wider society we might consider service animals, such as guide dogs, diabetes alert dogs, and emotional support animals. In the home pets are increasingly recognized to contribute to emotional wellbeing, with companion animals particularly important to those who are otherwise at risk of social isolation. Expanded to include concepts such as the ‘human’ microbiome in the opening decades of the twenty-first century, these entanglements may be recognized as ‘multispecies medicine’. In each case, human health and wellbeing rests on the cultivation of relationships with other species. Being well is a process of being well together.
We invite proposals to explore multispecies communication, collaboration and companionship in contexts of medicine, health and wellbeing. Areas of interest include, but are not limited to, the lived experience of health as a product of multispecies relations, the role of affect and emotion in the maintenance of human and nonhuman wellbeing, and the societal politics of ‘being well’ when ‘being well’ is a more than human condition. The lived experience of being well with animals can reshape understandings of health, wellbeing and disability; its study may provide new approaches to productively frame the relationship between the politics of animal and disability advocacy.
Participants will be drawn from a range of disciplines with interests spanning, though not restricted to, medical and environmental humanities. We aim to strike a balance between studies adopting historical perspectives and those which critically examine areas of contemporary practice. In bringing historical accounts into dialogue with present practices, Being Well Together will generate new perspectives on medicine, health and changing relations of human and animal life in society.
Invited participants will provide a written draft paper for pre-circulation (6-8000 words maximum inclusive of references) by 31st July 2018. These ‘work-in-progress’ papers will be the starting point for discussions at the September workshop with a view to producing an edited volume.
Accommodation and travel costs for invited participants will be covered by the organisers.
Being Well Together is the first in a series of activities supported by the Wellcome Trust (UK) Investigator Award, ‘Multispecies Medicine: Biotherapy and the Ecological Vision of Health and Wellbeing’. Based at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, University of Manchester, this collaborative research project examines how, why and to what consequence, human and nonhuman life has become variously entangled within health, wellbeing and society.
Royal Holloway, University of London (central London base)
This workshop will explore the intersection of two important developments in the field of history – the study of animals and the study of the emotions. Interdisciplinary animal studies are well established, but the animal world has recently become a focus for social and cultural historians, especially in relation to the domestic dog in Britain and Europe. The history of animals is also a key theme in the history of science, and this too has seen an increasing emphasis on human-animal relationships. At the same time, the history of the emotions has been one of the major growth areas in social history in the past decade, and emotions are increasingly viewed as a ‘category of analysis.’ Current scholarship explores the cultural representation of animals and their emotional resonance, changing ideas of human-animal relationships in science and everyday life, and emotional and financial values that played out in the growing economies and industries associated with animal care. This workshop aims to reflect on these important developments and to draw together some of the new and exciting work that is taking place across these fields. We welcome proposals from scholars working from a historical perspective in all disciplines on all places and cultures.
Papers might address (but are not confined to) the following themes:
Cultural representations of animals in art, literature and popular culture
The symbolic use of animals as imagery and their emotional resonance
Anthropomorphism and the projection of human emotional understandings onto the animal world
The role of animals in emotional communities
The role of animals in families and the idea of the pet
The history of animals in institutions and the emergence of medical support animals
The construction of relationships between humans and animals
The emergence of scientific understandings of the animal’s emotional role
Changing understandings of the capacity of animals to experience emotions
The problems of distinguishing between human and animal emotional life
The emergence of consumer markets for companion animals
Not all traditions envision the deity in the image of humans, the “crown jewel of creation.” Every now and again, it assumes the guise of a white bear. For some believers, this has posed existential conundrums.
From eighteenth-century Iceland comes the report of a beast stranger even than the unicorn: bjarndýrakóngur—a polar bear king—that seems strangely diluted, a tamer version of the spirit bear of the pagan Norse sagas. The bjarndýrakóngur is an extraordinary beast of gigantic size, sprung from the union of a walrus and a polar bear, with a horn sprouting from its forehead. The horn is aglow, lighting the area around it so that the bear can find its way in even the darkest midwinter night. The master of all polar bears, the bjarndýrakóngur understands speech and in its infinite wisdom uses its horn only in self-defense or when angered. One story tells how, during a Whitsun service at Grímsey’s Miðgarðar church, the ursine monarch approached from the island’s outskirts with an entourage of twelve (or thirteen) polar bears. Surprised at this sight, the minister and his congregation stood outside and watched the procession. The clergyman bowed to the bear-king, who in passing returned the courtly gesture. Near Borgamór the bears came upon some sheep, and the last in line killed one. When their leader saw this, he immediately ran his horn through the offender, mortally wounding it. After that, the party marched south, toward Grenivík, where they all disappeared into the sea.
Through the lens of this late feudal society, one can still see the mythical bear of old, though this account could also mark a year in which an unusual number of polar bears landed on Iceland’s shores. It is interesting to note that the bjarndýrakóngur is a bear that has been “neutered.” He does not kill for sustenance like a normal bear, but only from a sense of justice. He dispatches the o ending bear with the unicorn’s romanticized weapon, much like a knight with a sword. This is another sign of his noble breeding, his domestication.
In the Christian liturgical year, Whitsunday—the day the polar bear king first appeared—commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the twelve apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ. The etymology of the feast day’s name preserves color symbolism: “White Sunday” was named after the white clerical vestments worn on that day instead of the usual red ones, or perhaps after the white robes of the faithful who expected to be baptized on that Sunday. The file of polar bears suggests these catechumens, clad in white, and the associated purity of the spirit.
With its Christian-monarchic overtones—the twelve followers, the Whitsunday setting, the light figure leading the way, and the scepter-like horn—the legend of the bjarndýrakóngur presages Heinrich Heine’s Atta Troll, published in 1843 in the German Zeitung für die elegante Welt. This satirical verse epic’s mouthpiece is Atta, an escaped dance bear—a brown bear. Atta symbolizes many of the attitudes Heine despised, including the view that God exists in the believer’s form. Atta imagines the deity as an enormous, elevated polar bear:
High upon his golden throne
In yon splendid tent of stars,
Clad in cosmic majesty,
Sits a titan polar bear.
Spotless, gleaming white as snow
Is his fur; his head is decked
With a crown of diamonds
Blazing through the central vault.
In his face bide harmony
And the silent deeds of thought,
And obedient to his sceptre
All the planets chime and sing.
At his feet sit holy bears,
Saints who suffered on the Earth,
Meekly. In their paws they hold
Splendid palms of martyrdom.
In one of Canto VIII’s stanzas, Atta warns his cub of becoming an atheist, a “monster void of reverence,” a stance that should be read as satire. While Heine caricatures pious Biedermeier domesticity, Atta also dreams of revolution, of waging war against the human species. Just because people walk upright, wear clothes, and practice arts and sciences, the bear asserts, they should not consider themselves superior to other creatures. If all animals united in solidarity, Atta thinks, they could end the rule of humans and replace it with an animal republic. Here, Heine mocks populism and simplistic egalitarianism. But as in all good fables, his quixotic protagonist meets a fitting, and from the perspective of political elites, well-deserved end: a Basque bear hunter eventually kills Atta, who reaches Paris—center of radical action and thinking—as a rug.
A popular writer of the current era has resurrected shamanic spirit helpers and polar bear–like colossi in his fantasy fiction and, like Atta Troll’s creator, has also been charged with godlessness. The English writer Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights (released in the United States as e Golden Compass) is the first book of a trilogy about a world populated by angels and gypsies, by witches, shamans, and an apostate nun. Inspired by Milton’s Paradise Lost, the plot centers on the overthrow of “the Authority,” a thinly veiled metaphor for God.
Pullman’s panserbjørne—a race of huge white “armored bears”—live on Svalbard. One of their kings, Iofur Raknison, emulates humans by drinking liquor and wearing opulent clothes. Another, Iorek Byrnison (a mongrel form of the Norwegian name Bjørnson, “bear-son”) aids in the rescue of kidnapped children. In this potpourri of the imagination, Nordic folklore blends with real bear biology. The panserbjørne are solitary but form a loose society; their duels follow ritualized procedures and seldom end in death; their liver is toxic. Pullman also borrows freely from northern ethnography. There are clans and taboos in Pullman’s universe as well as allusions to shamanism. All human characters in the story have a “dæmon,” a spirit or soul that takes the form of an animal and that frequently changes shape during childhood but after puberty stays fixed. These dæmons, like the animal-spirits associated with shamans, are known as “familiars,” an ethnographic term; they die when a person dies and vice versa. A human without a dæmon is “like someone without a face, or with their ribs laid open and their heart torn out: something unnatural and uncanny.”
The Golden Compass was briefly banned from some school library shelves in a Canadian Catholic school district for its anti-Christian tone. But it was also adapted for the screen, where it reached even larger audiences.
The bear’s near-invisibility in the Arctic landscape and half-light was also the subject of reflection in Moby-Dick, which strikes metaphysical chords in the reader:
Though in many natural objects, whiteness refiningly enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its own. . . there yet lurks an elusive something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes more of panic to the soul than that redness which a rights in blood.
This elusive quality it is, which causes the thought of whiteness, when divorced from more kindly associations, and coupled with any object terrible in itself to heighten that terror to the furthest bounds. Witness the white bear of the poles, and the white shark of the tropics: what but their smooth, flaky whiteness makes them the transcendent horrors they are? . . .
Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?
Perhaps Melville knew of or sensed etymological resonances. “Bleak,” which describes the tone of his sea-tale as well as explorers’ views of the Arctic, comes to us from the proto-Germanic *blaika-, “shining, white,” by way of Old Norse bleikr, “pale, whitish, blond.” is sense survived in medieval English, meaning “bare” as well as “pale”; in modern German it remains, as bleich. Facial pallor and deadliness connect snow, winter, and polar bear.
In the context of anthrozoology, especially the widespread, well-documented esteem for white animals, Melville’s take on whiteness appears ambiguous, prejudiced even—a break with tradition. Symbolically, it makes sense for his time and place: the whale as inscrutable, hostile godhead, the opponent of Puritan struggles. Like Ahab’s obsession (whose object was modeled after a real-life, much-pursued white sperm whale named “Mocha Dick”), people’s fascination with white bears probably also grew from attitudes toward the exceptional, often identified with the divine. Albino animals or those with leucism—a genetic mutation—have always sparked wonder and the imagination. Zoos treasure white deer, white moose, bison, gorillas, lobsters, and tigers, and the latter were hunted to such a degree that they became effectively extinct in the wild. Bounty hunters eagerly sought colorless specimens, for which they could net ten times the amount paid for more common creatures. Similarly, a white bear in British Columbia’s rain forest, a black bear-mutant that the Tsimshian call moksgm’ol or “spirit bear,” still commands awe.
Coupling with grizzlies, giving birth to mixed offspring, mingling with walrus and whales, the white bear of the Arctic continues to evade definition. It’s a creature of edges, one that “hunts the ice margins, the surface of the water, and the continental shore.” It pigeon-toes the line between physical and metaphysical realms. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that the polar bear has been and is many things to many people. Across cultures and time, its whiteness invited projection, and we eagerly saddled it with our fears, fantasies, and ambitions. Like the blank spots on explorers’ maps or the deity—if one exists—it keeps us forever guessing its true nature.
The Animal History Group are excited to announce that our network is rapidly growing!
If you are excited about all things animal, then the interdisciplinary research network centred in the Schools of English and History at the University of Kent, is worth checking out. Since their first conference ‘Cosmopolitan Animals’ in 2012, they have been working together to foster collaboration and exchange among animal studies scholars. Looking to expand their network within Kent and beyond, across a wide range of disciplines, the AHG are proud to associate ourselves with this network.
The Animal History Group is linked to and partly supported by the AHRC Pets and Family Life in England and Wales, 1837-1939 project at both Royal Holloway and Manchester University.
Pets and Family Life in England and Wales is a major new research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It is the first large-scale historical study of the relationships between families and their cats, dogs and other companion animals in modern Britain.
To find out more about this project, please visit: