Animal/Nonhuman Workshop

University of Chicago

Call for Papers: Winter 2018

How, and to what effect, does the nonhuman frame the human?

The University of Chicago’s longstanding Animal Studies Workshop is currently soliciting papers on animals, plants, machines, and other groups on the fringes of humanity. If your work interrogates the conceptual boundaries between the human and any or all of the above, the Animal/Nonhuman Workshop invites you to participate in this year’s cycle of presentations and papers. In the past, our workshop has been attended by students and faculty members from across the humanities and humanistic social sciences, providing a much-needed discussion forum for animal-, plant-, machine-, and object-oriented classicists, literary and film scholars, philosophers, historians, anthropologists, and economists, among others. The problem of the nonhuman, which requires a broad and deep knowledge, all but demands the transgression of conventional areas of study. Working together, the members of our workshop explore cross-disciplinary subjects, including but not limited to:

– Representations of nonhumans in literature, film, and visual art

– Human supremacy (or lack thereof); alterity, real or imagined

– The status, and subsequently, treatment of the nonhuman in disparate regions, time periods, and religions

– The boundaries of the moral community; the ethics of vegetarianism, veganism

– Animality and “becomings-animal”; dehumanization and intersectionality

– Hierarchies of nonhumans; the figure or status of the hybrid or monster

– The ways humanity has been/is being transformed by rapid technological advancement; the pros and cons of human enhancement

– The Anthropocene; Environmentalism and Anti-environmentalism

– The value of diversity; the threat and reality of extinction and responses thereto

– Agriculture and animal husbandry; domestication in theory and practice

– Human and nonhuman spaces; the ethics of zoos and aquariums

– Humanism, Posthumanism, Transhumanism, Antihumanism, and New Materialism

We also welcome submissions on the future of Animal/Nonhuman Studies: given that ours is a nascent area of study and there is a group of researchers that attends our workshop every other week, we are in the exciting position not only to forge solutions to animal/nonhuman problems, but also to contribute to the metadiscourse about our subfield.

If you want to help us develop a unique, institutional voice on issues concerning animals and other nonhumans, or you have an idea – or a paper or chapter – about the role of the fox in medieval French literature or the drone in American consciousness, we ask that you submit a 250 to 500-word abstract to zbhughes@uchicago.edu by December 31, 2018.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016: James Hevia with “Surra and the Emergence of Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Colonial India”

James L. Hevia, Department of History, University of Chicago

“Surra and the Emergence of Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Colonial India”

Between 1880 and the first decade of the twentieth century, veterinary medicine in India underwent a profound change. Emphasis shifted from the treatment of diseases affecting domestic animals, such as rinderpest. The new focus was on diseases that threatened to undermine a centerpiece of the British imperial security regime, pack animal transport – built, as it was, around camel, mule, donkey, and pony laborers. At the forefront of such concerns was surra, a blood disease caused by a parasite in the trypanosome family. In addition to attacking cavalry horses, it was the single main cause of death among the animals in army transport.

This paper explores the process by which veterinary medicine became militarized, and transformed by germ theory and bacteriology. It will also demonstrate how events in India were explicitly linked to the emerging field of tropical veterinary medicine, bringing Indian army veterinary surgeons into dialogues with counterparts in colonial Southeast Asia and in French and German colonies in Africa.

Please email Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016: Tyler Schroeder with

Tyler Schroeder, Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago

“Science as Fantasy: Conflicted Appeals in Maya the Bee and her Adventures (1925)”

Wolfram Junghans’ feature film Die Biene Maja und ihre Abenteuer (1925), filmed over three years using live insects and animals for “actors,” is adapted from a popular children’s novel. The film pairs the painstaking technological work of miniature-scale cinematography with the biological effort required to make insects “perform” before the camera. The writings of its filmmakers suggest the sublimation of the scientific and technological look, which here tries to reinvent itself as a means by which to create whimsy and fantasy. While skeptical critics dismiss the film as fulfilling neither the mandates of science nor of entertainment, I consider the film’s conceptualization, as well as its execution, to reflect the possibilities for rupture embedded within the didactic discourse of silent scientific and hygienic films. Sabine Flach recently wrote that the Weimar social-hygiene film transformed its audience into a medium—imprinting itself upon it by modifying its health and practices in an enduring fashion. My project examines the phenomenon of audience-creation as Kultur filmmakers negotiate and anticipate audience reactions. I do so by examining both the written discourse surrounding hygienic and didactic films and the aesthetics and rhetoric of these films themselves. In particular, I wish to examine the film’s mobilization of anthropomorphism as a problematic bridge between the scientific and the popular, and the demands of resemblance, legibility, and synthesis that are placed upon both insect bodies and specular subjectivities.

By pairing a generic reading of this film in the context of Kulturfilm with an aesthetic and historical evaluation of its cinematographic pracices, I attempt to find a new reading of this historical grouping of films as a whole. By examining the tensions between science and narrative in a film where the narrative is contingent upon optical and biological manipulation, I begin to derive a lineage that unites the fancy of Die Biene Maja with the didacticism of the period’s social-hygiene films, and intimate the possibility of a more vibrant poetics of science, hygiene, and medicine.

Please email Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu).

Wednesday, May 4, 2016: Matthew Vanderpoel with “Domesticated Necromancy: ‘Renart Magicien’ and the Non-Humanity of Language”

Matthew Vanderpoel, History of Christianity in the Divinity School, University of Chicago 

“Domesticated Necromancy: ‘Renart Magicien’ and the Non-Humanity of Language”

Co-sponsored with the Medieval Studies workshop

In “Renart the Sorcerer,” an early-thirteenth-century branch of the sprawling Reynard cycle, the titular fox amplifies his usual mischief-making by traveling to Toledo to study necromancy. This paper presents a reading of this understudied text by focusing on Reynard’s apprenticeship in black magic—a process that includes both his formal study of magical formulae and his being domesticated as a house animal. By pairing these activities, the author charges a set of comparisons between the occult rules of enchantment and the strictures of human society. The paper concludes by analyzing this work as a part of larger debates over language and poetry in the high Middle Ages.

Please email Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu).

Wednesday, April 20: James Leo Cahill with “Carnivorous Cinema”

James Leo Cahill, Cinema Studies Institute and Department of French, University of Toronto

“Carnivorous Cinema”

In Jean Vigo’s 1930 address “Toward a Social Cinema,” he challenges engaged filmmakers to pursue subjects “that eat meat” [qui mange de la viande], in other words, film subject that bite into the flesh and inaugurate a carnivorous cinema. What to make of this strange project? What does it mean to premise an engaged cinema upon a violent imperative to devour flesh? What configurations of body, flesh, life, death, and social relations can such an orientation realize?

 

A belated response to Vigo’s challenge appears in a diptych of short films made in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War in France: Jean Painlevé and Geneviève Hamon’s L’Assassins d’eau douce / Freshwater Assassins (1947), a documentary about the predatory behaviors of local freshwater insects set to a frenetic hot jazz soundtrack, and Georges Franju’s Le Sang des bêtes / Blood of the Beasts (1948), an unflinching view of Paris’ abattoirs featuring commentary by Painlevé. Read together, these films develop a cinematic reflection on the food chain, nutritive destruction, and carnivorous behaviors that vacillates between anthropocentric allegories of human culture and uncanny direct addresses that refuse to grant humans the comfort of a stable place outside of the food chain. Working with archival materials (correspondences, alternate scripts, technical notes), contemporaneous writings on carnivorous culture by Antonin Artaud and heterodox Surrealists associated with Documents, and recent work by Eric Santner and Anat Pick on Walter Benjamin’s notion of natural history, I draw out how these films develop ambivalent audiovisual discourses on modes of gustatory violence that co-implicate spectators in their reflections of precarity, vulnerability, and creatureliness of flesh.

Please email Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu). 

Wednesday, April 6: “To be (a baboon), or not to be (a bat); On Time and Subjectivity in Baboon Mothers and Infants”

Sam Schulte, Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, University of Chicago

“To be (a baboon), or not to be (a bat); On Time and Subjectivity in Baboon Mothers and Infants”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
What kinds of valid inferences can be made about animal life? Baboon Mothers and Infants, as a foundational work for behavioral ecology and deploying methodology from Jeanne Altmann’s 1974 paper on observational study, establishes the validity of focal sampling as a data collection method for the naturalistic study of animal behavior. Using the issue of time in Thomas Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?” as a means to explore the ontological and epistemological stakes of her work, I argue that Altmann productively manipulates analytic time in order to form a well-supported notion of what it is like ‘to be’ a mother-infant dyad, and in so doing, makes objective claims about the subjective experience of the dyad.

Please email Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu).

Friday, April 1, 2016: “Animal Encounters in The Unwild or What Is It Like To Hold Down A Baby Monkey: On Metaphysical Excess, and ‘The Three Rs’ as Paradoxes of Authority”

Please note the special date/time/location: April 1, 2016; Noon-1:30 pm, Social Sciences 302
(In collaboration with the History of Human Sciences Workshop)

Sam Schulte, Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science, University of Chicago

“Animal Encounters in The Unwild or What Is It Like To Hold Down A Baby Monkey: On Metaphysical Excess, and ‘The Three Rs’ as Paradoxes of Authority”

In the 2011 Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, the National Research Council uses the conceptual apparatus of ‘Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement’ developed by W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch in 1959 as a tool to develop more humane research practice in the United States. As ‘The Three Rs’ become institutionalized as part of the regulatory apparatus of the National Institutes of Health, a question arises of how this triad operates to negotiate the epistemic and ontic space between human and nonhuman. I propose that each ‘R’ is an expression of a paradox that emerges from the practice of animal experimentation: the more researchers use an animal, the more human that animal becomes and the use of that animal less humane. Using Marshall Sahlins idea of kinship as a mutuality of being and Robert Proctor’s notion of agnotology, I argue that the appeal of the ‘Three Rs’ comes from each concept’s ability to simultaneously produce kinship and ignorance, thereby managing the affective relationship between researcher and experimental object.

Please email Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu). 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016: “Charles Darwin’s Post-Mortem Natural History: (De)Composing the Earth Through the Action of Worms”

Sarah Bezan, English, University of Alberta

“Charles Darwin’s Post-Mortem Natural History: (De)Composing the Earth Through the Action of Worms”

Charles Darwin’s final text, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, imparts a curious narrative of the world passed through the illimitable tracts of earthworms. In the opening pages of Worms, Darwin writes that he is “led to conclude that all the vegetable mould all over the whole country has passed many times through, and will again pass many times through, the intestinal canals of worms” (4). This vegetable mould – what Darwin calls a “rich humus of great thickness” on the earth (5), is created from the humble worm’s massive appetite for dead and decaying organic materials that are pulled down into their boroughs and digested, creating a process of bioturbation that essentially re-works the very soils and sediments of the earth. Capable of metabolizing and processing a tremendous quantity of putrefying organic matter, worms have, as Darwin notes, shifted the very foundations of Downe house (his residence) and even the great stones of Stonehenge. As both archaeologists and undertakers, the worm has played, Darwin insists, “a more important part in the history of the world than most persons would at first suppose” (308).

But what kind of history of the world does Darwin imagine in this final text on the worm, and what impact does this vision have for the study of natural science? As I will suggest in this talk, Darwin’s final text on the worm brings organic decomposition and vitalistic inter-species interaction to the forefront of the narrative of the natural world. Imagining the earth as a site of continuous decomposition and renewal through the fortuitous encounters between dead matter and living agents like the earthworm, I argue that Darwin’s final text advances a post-mortem natural history that, like the history of evolution, changes how we understand the constitution of the human and the distinction between life and death. Developing a new materialist natural history of living and dead human and nonhuman animal organisms, my approach to Worms proceeds from the central claim, as articulated best by Elizabeth Grosz in her book, Becoming Undone, that “the Darwinian revolution in thought disrupts and opens life to other forms of development beyond, outside, and after the human” (2-3). Thinking and unthinking (or knowing and unknowing) the environment, as this talk proposes to do, is therefore about traversing beyond origins and endings — that is, beyond where we have come from, and where we will go, or continue to go, as fleshly, material beings who live and die. Although natural science aims to tell a story from the materials of the past — from those fossils and skeletons that Jessica Mordsely calls the “terrifying, faceless, nameless, long-dead animal other”— it is important to note that these post-mortem material objects and specimens are continuously entangled in the ever-unfurling story of the earth. The catalogued objects housed in natural science museums across the globe to some extent serve as disparate and incomplete portions of a long, complicated, and continuously shifting story of the earth and of the human and nonhuman animals that live and die as its inhabitants. By acknowledging the necessarily post-mortem orientation of the discipline of natural science (that is, its attentiveness to what is past, and to what is dead), and by affirming the inter-species connections between living and dead organisms, I argue that it becomes possible to understand Worms as a text that fortifies an alternative vision of the world that is based on the vitalistic potential of death and decomposition and the innumerable possibilities for inter-species connection.

Please email Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu). 

 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016: “Pigs in the Parlor: Species and Nuisances in the American Suburbs”

—in collaboration with the American Cultures working group—

Laura Perry, English, University of Wisconsin—Madison

“Pigs in the Parlor: Species and Nuisances in the American Suburbs”

This article examines the centrality of the concept of species to the history of white flight and the racist federal housing policies of the 1950s and 60s, by tracking a discourse about species in legal rhetoric and postwar suburban literature. In emphasizing how species and the suburban home are culturally as well as materially constructed, I aim to complicate and extend the suburban as a literary genre by analyzing how suburban narratives helped police the role of nonhuman animals within modern American domestic spaces.

In the postwar years, nuclear families increasingly went to the grocery store for eggs, rather than the chicken coop. This separation between suburban families and the animals who stocked their kitchens was no accident: suburban land use regulations and cultural expectations cordoned off animal bodies into a separate sphere, geographically and conceptually. Farm animals became described and perceived as nuisances, as evidence that a neighborhood was not truly residential. The Supreme Court ruling in Euclid v. Ambler, a landmark case in 1926 about housing policy, used farm animals as a kind of limit case, citing “a pig in the parlor instead of the barnyard” as an obvious nuisance to homeowners. Though most scholars have read the “pig in the parlor” as a figurative intruder, this article will suggest that this kind of animal rhetoric is symptomatic of a larger debate about the proper place for animal bodies in midcentury America.

Please email Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu) for a copy of the paper.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu). 

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016: Skinning for Proof and Power in the Periplus of Hanno and its Imperial Tradition

Clara Bosak-Schroeder, Classics, The University of Illinois

“Skinning for Proof and Power in the Periplus of Hanno and its Imperial Tradition”

The Periplus of Hanno, an ancient Greek prose description of a (probably imagined) colonization voyage King Hanno the Carthaginian made around western Africa, ends with a scene of human flaying. Hanno and his crew encounter the Gorillai, a community of “wild human beings.” Hanno captures some of the “hairy” women, kills them, skins them, and takes their skins back to Carthage. In this article, I trace a cultural history of flaying in ancient Greece and Rome to interpret this scene and its reception by later Roman authors. While modern scholars have wanted to see the hairy Gorillai as a species of nonhuman primate, especially gorillas (whose name the Gorillai inspired in the 19 century), I argue that the we must take seriously the Gorillai as human beings and understand their flaying within a Greco-Roman worldview. I show that Greek and Roman writers co-construct ethnicity and hum/animality through the treatment of mortal remains. Greeks and Romans believed that human corpses deserve respect after death whereas animal corpses do not. Likewise, Greek and Roman writers often assume that ethnic Others do not respect human corpses as they should. Thus, when Hanno skins the Gorillai, he performs his alterity. Yet Roman writers who rework the flaying scene also celebrate the skins as proof of Hanno’s encounter with the amazing Gorillai. This tension between Hanno the cruel barbarian and Hanno the heroic producer of marvels made it possible for ancient readers to evaluate Hanno’s actions, and the Gorillai themselves, in different ways.

Request a copy of the paper by emailing hutch@uchicago.edu.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu). 
 

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