Eat, Prey, Love: Humans and Other Animals in Historical Perspective

HIST 385

Marcy Norton

Tuesday/Thursday, 12 - 1:30 PM

We live in a paradoxical moment in the history of people’s relationships with animals. Certain species suffer today more than ever due to environmental degradation and modern food production practices. Yet other mammalian species are subject to a degree of sentimental attention perhaps unprecedented in history. To understand the historical origins of this paradox, the course is organized around the concept of a mode of interaction, defined as a structure that organizes relationships between animals and other people. Modes of interaction determine whether it is permissible to love and/or kill certain animal and help us understand why certain animals are viewed as fellow “subjects” (think beloved hunting dogs and family pets) and others as objects (think factory farm chickens, cows, and pigs).  We will look at the modes of interaction that defined the early modern era (1500- 1800) in the Atlantic World and consider their origins deep in time and their endurance directly or indirectly into the present. For Europe these modes of interaction were hunting and livestock husbandry. For Native American groups in Amazonia and Mesoamerica these modes were “predation” and “familiarization.” Can this understanding of the history of human-animal relationships can help us think about ethics of our treatment of non-human animals in the present? Readings primary sources - ranging from treatises on falconry to pictorial books produced by Native Americans in fifteenth-century Mexico to contemporary fiction –  as well as secondary sources by historians, anthropologists and other scholars. We will also have a number of special guests as well as excursions to local collections, such as those at the Penn museum.