Animals and America

STSC 372-301

Ann Norton Greene

Wednesday 2:00 - 5:00 PM

This course looks at animals in the American past, to find out what a focus on an individual animal, a species, or a kind of animal (such as work animals, food animals, wildlife, zoo animals, pets and pests) can reveal by exposing the inner workings of different periods and events. When we make animals the focus of how we look at the past, things change. Making animals visible makes other things visible; hidden, surprising or even shocking aspects of the past appear.

Americans have always lived with and employed animals. They also have "thought with" animals, using animals to work out their understandings of society, nature and power. How Americans perceived, named, classified, behaved toward and worked with animals bares the workings of race, class and gender, uncovers power structures, and reveals environmental and legal choices. If we want to understand how the current world came to be, taking a critter approach to history provides a way to explain how we got to now. Changing our view of the past can change our ideas of what the present can be.

Though animals are everywhere in the past, they are often hidden from view. We will embark on a hunt for animals, foraging through historical writing, political documents, literature, and primary sources. We will watch movies, examine photographs and study cartoons. We will draw on knowledge from the fields of science, technology, health and environments, and employ the classifications of race, class, gender, nature and culture. We'll talk about evolution, domestication and wildlife. We will look at zoomorphism, when people or things are labeled as animals (calling people pigs or snakes, or talking about bull or bear stock markets), and anthropomorphism, when animals are thought of or portrayed as people. In this seminar, we'll begin with case studies from the nineteenth century, then start seeking the animals of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Writing, much of it informal, will be a regular part of this course, as will research exercises. There will be different options for writing and for research projects. Course materials will focus on American history and society but projects and exercises may look at places and times from around the globe and across the centuries. 

This course fulfills the EH Minor Requirement in Social Science Approaches to Environmental Inquiry. See the full minor requirements list.

Fall 2020