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New “Nature Fakers”?: Historians and the Animal Experience

Thu, April 11, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency Columbus, Madison

Session Submission Type: Panel


In the late nineteenth century North American authors and naturalists engaged in debate about the intelligence and abilities of nonhuman animals. Naturalists believed that some authors had improperly written about wildlife and their abilities. In the early twentieth century Theodore Roosevelt published an article entitled “Nature Fakers” that criticized particular writers for their anthropomorphic depictions of animals and their arguments that nonhuman animals were capable of reason. While Roosevelt’s publication marked a climax to the argument, the term “Nature Fakers” persisted into the early twentieth century to criticize writers who misrepresented wildlife. The panelists consider the possibility of telling history from the point of view of nonhuman animals. If historians work to understand the past through animal perspectives are they merely new “Nature Fakers” or do they offer unique insights?

Lindsay Marshall recognizes the historical connections between humans and horses, yet human history has often over-looked these animals. Utilizing a range of sources, she elucidates the ways in which horses have been and can be active participants in historical narratives. Ian Jesse takes on the perspective of captive fur-bearers held on fur farms across North America during the early twentieth century. While this view highlights the difficult lives of these animals, it also accurately reflects the challenges rural people faced when trying to profit from non-domesticated animals. Hanna Palsa shifts the focus of the panel to the non-human experience of World War II. She argues that emphasizing American war dogs allows historians to gain a broader sense of the impact of war on nonhuman agents. Finally, Michael O’Hagan assumes the perspective of the black bears held as pets by German POWs in Canada during the Second World War. He demonstrates that the lives of these animals are reflective of the POW experience and their perceptions of wilderness in Canada.

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