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Animal History: Opportunities, Problems, Controversies, Politics

Thu, March 31, 1:00 to 2:30pm, Westin Seattle Hotel, Blakely

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


This roundtable brings together animal historians who proceed from various disciplines—environmental history, social history, literature, and biology, to discuss the most forward-looking and controversial questions about animal history that we confront today. First, each panelist will offer a brief (8-minute) introduction to their own work and the opportunities, problems, controversies and politics of their topics, methods, and findings. Thereafter, panelists and attendees will engage in a spirited debate over a number of questions about what animal history is and what its limits may be, for instance: How we can write an intrinsically valuable history of animals -- a "history without humans" even -- by employing environmental history or biological science? What is the line dividing animal history from “history” as a humanist practice documenting human agency, or from environmental history, or from historical ecology? What are the politics of examining historical animals as historically contingent individuals who participated in animal and human-animal cultures, and thus cannot be discussed as unthinking and culture-less (like the weather or plant life), nor as conscious in the way of humans? How do we cope with the anthropocentric nature of the historical record, archival materials and repositories? Might it ever be possible to capture historical animal experience by, for instance, employing zoological theory, animal welfare science research, or biological science? What is the ultimate goal of animal history: to reform human-animal relations, inform scientific research on mass extinction, environmental or climate change? Or something else?

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