Seminar Series 2017/18

13th September 2017

This seminar will take a slightly different form from usual in that we will be having two 20 minute papers from two post-graduate students.

‘‘Bearing the Buck’s head’: The Dead Animal, Dance, and Procession in the Early Modern Parish’
Jennifer Reid, Birkbeck


Records exist of several early modern customs – some organised by the church or other institutions, others less formal local affairs – which saw the processing of a buck’s or boar’s head around the local parish, often accompanied by costumed participants, dancing, and music.  Calendar customs such as the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, the presentation of a boar’s head at Christmas, and the processions at Tutbury, St Paul’s, and Broad Chalke are mirrored by tantalising hints in medieval hunting manuals and early modern drama of a customary celebratory ritual concluding the aristocratic hunt, which appears to have incorporated the body of the slain quarry.  These ritualised events were usually overt statements of community cohesion and co-operation, yet they drew their symbolic charge from the inherent violence of the hunt and its sacrificial emphasis on the dead animal’s physical dismemberment.  However, perhaps the strangest aspect of these processions and dances is their suppression or denial of the violence they visually evoke, and their emphasis instead on the chase, or the ceremonial presentation of venison to the lord of the feast.  I will draw on René Girard’s discussion of sacrifice as symbolic action which is in some way protective of social harmony, through its substitution of a safer victim than one’s own peers or its deflection of violence to an external rather than internal target, in order to explore what the dismembered animal meant, and why, when it appeared in these apparent expressions of communal harmony.


Jennifer Allport Reid is undertaking a PhD at Birkbeck under the supervision of Susan Wiseman, exploring the relationship between English and Scottish folklore and the early modern stage.  She has recently presented on hunting, folk customs, and fairy-lore at the Society for Renaissance Studies Conference, and on Robin Hood and the early modern forest at the 6th Biennial Congress of the European Network for Comparative Literary Studies in Galway, as well co-organising the London Renaissance Seminar on the theme of ‘Animal Lives in Early Modern Culture’.  Her paper on ‘Community and the Transformation of Popular Culture from Early Modern Customary Drama to Anthony Munday’s Robin Hood Plays’ was recently published in the June issue of The Wenshan Review of Literature and Culture.  She is particularly interested in the place of the early modern subject within their environment, and especially how early modern folklore and popular culture reflect the interactions between humans, animals, and the landscape.

Femininity, Fatness and Infertility: Analysing images of meat-producing female livestock in England between 1800 and 1815
Hilary Matthews, University of Reading.


Emily Pawley has recently looked at how nineteenth-century livestock breeders included and communicated knowledge about animal bodies through livestock portraits and how a knowledge of inbreeding could be used to change bodies. She rightly considers livestock portraits from the nineteenth-century were repositories of codes and symbols we are no longer trained to perceive. After briefly discussing how realistic these images were, this paper expands upon Pawley’s ideas by looking at a small selection of paintings and prints produced around 1800-1815 of meat-producing cows, ewes and sows.  It asks how much were the bodies of these excessively fat female animals physically altered by being brought to ‘a state of perfection’ by their owners and breeders. It then considers to what extent this obese shape might have affected their femininity. Farmers believed female animals fattened more quickly if they did not exhibit reproductive behaviour so many meat-producing female stock, particularly cattle, were commonly neutered (speyed) by using invasive surgery. How feasible is to ascertain the fertility status of the animals depicted in artistic representations during this period?

This paper concludes by discussing the strange phenomenon of the travelling exhibition animals that toured the country during this period. The animals, were often barren and infertile cows and heifers.  However, as contemporary literature records, these obscenely fat ‘pin-up’ girls of the early nineteenth-century were feted as celebrities, not only within the confines of the agricultural world but by the wider British public too.


Hilary Matthews is currently undertaking a PhD in history with Reading University. She is researching the Museum of English Rural Life’s collection of nineteenth-century livestock portraits as a means of understanding how these paintings and prints functioned within the society that produced them. By adopting an interdisciplinary approach, that combines her agricultural education, her long experience in livestock breeding, judging and artificial insemination, together with her recent qualifications in humanities and art history, (BA & MA respectively), Hilary is approaching this subject from a slightly different perspective to the one traditionally adopted by historians, animal historians and art historians.

18th October 2017

‘A Vet’s Eye View of War – Uncovering official and unofficial accounts of veterinary work on the front line of the Boer War’
Lorna Cahill, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Lorna Cahill is the first qualified archivist to be appointed by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Trust, where she has worked to preserve and promote their historic collections since October 2015. She graduated from UCL with a Postgraduate Diploma in Archives and Records Management in 2011, and has worked in the archives of Royal Holloway, University of London, the Natural History Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. Lorna has a particular interest in the records of natural science and exploration, and has contributed to conferences, exhibitions and publications on subjects ranging from plant hunting to female education.

17th November 2017

Animals and Emotions in History Workshop

Run by – AHRC Pets and Family Life Project, Royal Holloway, University of London (central London base)

For more details see –

28th November 2017

In a change from normal proceedings, on 29th November at 12pm we’ve arranged a viewing of the Ordinary Animals Exhibition at the Grant Museum of Zoology, which will begin with a brief introduction to the exhibition by Jack Ashby.

“The Museum of Ordinary Animals gives these commonplace creatures a chance to tell their stories. It begins by asking where ordinary animals came from, followed by the exploration of the themes of Ordinary Animals in culture, in science and in the environment.”

Please do join us if you can!

13th December 2017

Leave it to beavers: post-war studies of animal behaviour.
Dr Kathryn Schoefert, KCL

Kathryn Schoefert is a postdoctoral researcher at King’s College London. Her work in the history of mid-twentieth-century medicine and science focuses on the relationship between brain sciences and clinical medicine, also subject of her doctoral thesis on brain-based research in mid-twentieth-century psychiatry (University of Cambridge, 2015). Her current project, ‘One Medicine, One Brain?’, explores how, after the Second World War, human and veterinary neurologists, neuropathologists, psychiatrists, pathologists, and other neuro-scientists imagined, constructed, and discussed brain-based illnesses as entwining humans, animals, and environment. Ongoing collaborations with colleagues at King’s College London and the University of Cambridge examine the mid-twentieth-century neurological gaze and the design history of operating rooms.

10th January 2018

Due to unforeseen circumstances we have had to reschedule Dr David Lowther’s paper ‘The Art of Description: Brian Hodgson and the “Zoology of Nipal” for later in the term. This will now be on the 9th May 2018.

Instead we have the following two papers:

‘They are slow, but they are very sure’: the value of draught horses to British inter-war farming’ – Felicity McWilliams, King’s College London.


‘To dose or not to dose? That is the question.’ Examining the role of animal health chests in livestock health decision making, c/1930-1960. – Alex Bowmer, King’s College London.

15th January 2018

Book launch of ‘Animals and the Shaping of Modern Medicine’ by Abigail Woods, Michael Bresalier, Angela Cassidy and Rachel Mason Dentinger.

18:00-21:00pm, Department of History, King’s College London.

Please sign up via Eventbrite here:

“This book breaks new ground by situating animals and their diseases at the very heart of modern medicine. In demonstrating their historical significance as subjects and shapers of medicine, it offers important insights into past animal lives, and reveals that what we think of as ‘human’ medicine was in fact deeply zoological.

Each chapter analyses an important episode in which animals changed and were changed by medicine. Ranging across the animal inhabitants of Britain’s zoos, sick sheep on Scottish farms, unproductive livestock in developing countries, and the tapeworms of California and Beirut, they illuminate the multi-species dimensions of modern medicine and its rich historical connections with biology, zoology, agriculture and veterinary medicine. The modern movement for One Health – whose history is also analyzed – is therefore revealed as just the latest attempt to improve health by working across species and disciplines.

This book will appeal to historians of animals, science and medicine, to those involved in the promotion and practice of One Health today.”


7th February 2018

‘Sad stories of the death of dogs’: the changing nature of the canine elegy.
John Stokes, Emeritus Professor of Modern British Literature at King’s College London.

John Stokes is Emeritus Professor of Modern British Literature at KCL. Previously specialising in theatre history and the culture of the fin-de-siècle he has recently developed an interest in the literature of animal/ human relations.

**UPDATE Postponed – 7th March 2018**

Our next seminar, which was due to the be 7th March has been postponed. Further details will be confirmed at a later date.

Becoming Interdependent: Guide Dogs and Cross-Species Communication and Sociality in Inter-war America.
Dr Neil Pemberton, University of Manchester

Neil Pemberton is a Senior Wellcome Trust Researcher at the Centre for the History of Medicine at the University of Manchester. He has co-written a number of books on topics in the history of science and has written articles on wide-ranging topics in the history of medicine and science, the history of crime and cultural history. His latest book Murder and the Making of English CSI is published by Johns Hopkins Press. His new work explores the Anglo-American history of guide dog mobility and the nature, formation and lived experience of interdependent relationships formed across the species divide. His intention to try to trace how the guide-dog partnership have ‘co-evolved’ through specific historical engagements between dogs and — sighted and nonsighted) humans and to understand how, over time, these engagements have become embodied in institutional practices, the training and breeding regimes of guide-dog organisations, in popular culture, but also, significantly in the private and public lives of blind people who chose to live and walk with guide dogs.

4th April 2018

‘A Menagerie afloat’: Animals, Empire and the Royal Navy 1880-1914.
Dr Steven Gray, University of Portsmouth.

Steven is a lecturer in the History of the Royal Navy and the University of Portsmouth and author of recently published Steam Power and Sea Power: Coal, the Royal Navy, and the British Empire, c. 1870-1914 (

18th April 2018

‘Feeling love and inflicting pain: animals, emotions and senses at Bristol Zoo since 1836’.
Dr Andy Flack, University of Bristol.

Andy Flack is an environmental historian based at the University of Bristol. The first phase of his research career involved the use of the world’s oldest surviving provincial zoo in Bristol as a lens through which to consider the changing character of human-animal relationships in modernity. In addition to his book on this subject– The Wild Within: Histories of a Landmark British Zoo – he has also published on the subjects of animal celebrity, animal agency, safari parks, automobility and wildlife film. His new research project focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century encounters with, and understandings of, animals in dark environments, from cave systems and deep sea to protracted polar nights.

Andy Flack Book Cover

This paper coincides with the release of Andy’s book The Wild Within: Histories of a Landmark British Zoo.

9th May 2018

‘The Art of Description: Brian Hodgson and the “Zoology of Nipal”
Dr David Lowther, Durham University.

David Lowther is currently Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at Durham University, having studied for his BA, MLitt and PhD at Newcastle University in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology. His research focuses on the history and philosophy of nineteenth-century science, particularly the role of visual culture in the codification of scientific disciplines and creation of knowledge in Britain and India. He is Visiting Library Scholar at the Zoological Society of London, an Advisory Board member of the Centre for Nineteenth-Century Studies, and Chair (Arts and Humanities) of Durham University Research Staff Association.

Be sure to join us for the last seminar of the term!

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