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Animals (un)tamed: Human-Animal Encounters in Science, Art, and Literature.

Animals (un)tamed: Human-Animal Encounters in Science, Art, and LiteratureJournal of the LUCAS Graduate Conference, Issue 8, Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society, 2020. 

Animals in laboratories or as pets; animals in films, literature and art; animals as food or as entertainment; domesticated animals and animals in the wild. No matter in which role we cast them, animals play a significant part in our lives and have always done so, just as we play a part in theirs. We co-exist and collaborate with animals, exploit them, care for them, conceptualize them, and study them. The field of animal studies poses perhaps the most important questions of human society: What is our relationship to animals and vice versa; and what do we want this relationship to be? Do animals have agency in their interactions with us, and should they? What are the demarcations between ourselves and animals, and how alike are we? Do we collaborate with or exploit animals, and are we stewards, equals, or masters to the animals with which we interact? In recent decades animal studies flourished, focusing on the commodification of animals as food; as a source of labour; or as objects of study and entertainment. Pressing topics are the degradation of nature and environment resulting in extinction and loss of habitat for various species, and our growing awareness of the need to co-exist with animals not only in the context of human society but also in nature.

Scholars operating in the field of animal studies tackle the questions which arise when scholarly inquiry considers animals as subjects or objects of thought and activity. In short, these are questions relating to the definition of humanity in relationship to animals, and to our representation and understanding of animals as different species, anthropomorphism, agency, and our observation of animals. In the context of the demarcation between ourselves and other species, animal studies has coined the term “non-human animals” in recognition of the growing awareness of the similarities between our and other species. In highlighting such issues, animal studies have challenged traditional ethical and political views in regard to animals, have fed a growing respect for animal life, and have served reflections on human identity, knowledge, and society.

These issues are explored from various disciplines including sociology, anthropology, political science, history, literary studies, philosophy, geography, ethology, ecology, veterinary studies, and (comparative) psychology. The very nature of animal studies consequently invites interdisciplinary research by scholars who employ a range of theoretical perspectives. Those who engage in animal studies seek to understand human–animal relations as they are in the present, as they were in the past, and as they might be in the future, to understand animals independently from us, in their interactions with us, and as a means to reflect on our own humanity. Animal studies have only recently been recognised as an independent field of study. Different fields turned to animals as a crucial topic of study at different points in history and for different reasons; as such the histories of these diverse fields have shaped the approach of animal studies. Animal studies is in part associated with the animal liberation movement, and therefore grounded in ethical questions about our interactions with the animals around us. In addition, scholars occupied with animals in culture, art, and literature tend to reflect on how interactions with animals affect our definition of humanity and the self.

The articles included in the present issue of the Journal of the LUCAS Graduate Conference, titled Animals (un)tamed. Human–animal encounters in science, art, and literature, are the result of the diverse and interdisciplinary research on our multifaceted relationship with animals which is currently taking place. The fifth biannual LUCAS Graduate Conference, held in April 2019, shared this same theme. This conference on “Animals: Theory, Practice, and Representation” gave PhD and Master students the opportunity to present, exchange and discuss their research relating to animal studies with participants from diverse backgrounds. The resulting exchange focussed on a re-examination of the relationship between humans and animals, and the definitions involved. Many of the articles in the present issue are result of the lively debate which took place during this conference. The contributions to this issue of JLGC reflect the wide variety of approaches in animal studies.

Christine Kleiter and Maike Riedinger focus on animals as objects of research in respectively the sixteenth and twentieth century. Kleiter examines how knowledge about the Brazilian tanager — a South American songbird — was transferred and transformed in various ways in the early modern period. In particular, she looks at its representation in Pierre Belon’s 1555 treatise on birds, discussing how he would have collected information from an already dead and preserved specimen, and how he struggled with creating a “truthful” and “natural” image for his book. Kleiter further explores how Belon’s tanager then underwent changes in its subsequent appearance in a work of natural history by Ulisse Aldrovandi in 1600. In her study, Kleiter focuses on aspects of the bird which were difficult to capture in image (such as its colouring or a life-like appearance) or to preserve (such as its feet). She situates the case of the Brazilian tanager within the broader context of the production and circulation of knowledge in the wake of early colonial projects.

Maike Riedinger explores debates in the German-language field of animal psychology at the turn of the twentieth century on the question if animals — and more specifically, ants — were endowed with minds, and if so, of what kind. Riedinger focuses on two representatives of this scientific field: Albrecht Bethe and Auguste Forel. Their debate centred around the validity of the epistemological tool of analogy in animal psychology, which led to discussions on anthropomorphism. By tracing the discussions of these two scientists throughout their works and linking them to other contemporary strands of philosophical thought, Riedinger demonstrates that uncovering animal minds was only secondary to the broader debate on the validity of animal psychology as a science. Drawing comparisons between humans and other animals was not simply a tool to approach animal minds; rejecting or (partially) accepting this tool became the very cornerstone of sound research in animal psychology.

Efi Mosseri and Dorothee Fischer consider animals as participants in human activities and endeavours in the Middle Ages and our present time. Mosseri examines depictions of dogs in medieval illuminated books of hours, focusing in particular on a manuscript from the early fourteenth century, the Margaret Hours, which includes depictions of a dog alongside the devotee in prayer. She traces the iconography of dogs throughout several books of hours, drawing attention to the differences between pet dogs and hunting dogs, and discusses how these dogs are usually interpreted as symbols for human virtues or vices by modern scholars. Through careful visual analysis of the manuscript and consideration of emerging ideas about the relationship between humans and animals in the context of devotion, Mosseri wishes to move beyond such an anthropocentric approach and suggests instead that in the Margaret Hours, the pet dog participates in prayer together with the devotee.

Dorothee Fischer focuses on artistic collaborations between human and non-human artists to analyse the contemporary phenomenon of interspecies art and the role of agency within this discussion. Drawing from a variety of fields — including art history, praxeology, and action theory are the most prominent — Fischer adapts an innovative approach to the creative abilities of animals, combining Lisa Jevbratt’s and Jessica Ullrich’s notion of interspecies art with Mieke Roscher’s concepts of entangled and relational agency. Aaron Angell’s Gallery Peacetime and its artworks inhabited by axolotls, as well as CMUK — an interspecies collective consisting of humans and parrots — are considered as case studies to show that a revision of the concept of agency and interspecies art is needed, to support an art world that includes non-human artists.

Finally, Tim Vergeer examines the role of animals in Early Modern theatre. Specifically, Vergeer deals with the reception of Pedro Calderón’s drama of Circe and Ulysses in Dutch seventeenth-century theatre. He asks the question to what extent theatre-makers were able to introduce animals onstage, and highlights the way in which both the original and the Dutch adaptations challenge the border between fiction and reality by questioning the distinction between human reason and animal instinct. In particular, the article focuses on Adriaen De Leeuw’s De toveres Circe (1670) to illustrate that animal transformations, although logistically or artistically challenging, could provide a meaningful revelation of human flaws and miscommunication.

As the editorial board we hope that this issue will spark further debate within the field of animal studies. This issue would not have been possible without the help of various colleagues at LUCAS and elsewhere. First and foremost, we are grateful to our publisher, the Leiden University Library. Furthermore, we thank all the authors who contributed to this volume. We thank Paul Smith for writing the foreword of this issue, Joy Burrough-Boenisch for guiding us in our editing work and kindling? our enthusiasm for the editing process, our peer reviewers, and Tatiana Kolganova for designing this issue’s layout. Finally, we thank the LUCAS management team, Sybille Lammes, Rick Honings, Jan Pronk, and Ylva Klaassen, for their continued support in producing this eighth issue of the Journal of the LUCAS Graduate Conference.


The editorial board,
Zexu Guan, Sophia Hendrikx, Andries Hiskes, Leanne Jansen, Glyn Muitjens, Jun Nakamura, Merel Oudshoorn, Liselore Tissen

Link to journal issue: Animals (un)tamed: Human-Animal Encounters in Science, Art, and Literature