The Animal in History

History 103S.003

Fall 2007
Instructor (text): 
201 Wheeler
Day & Time: 
Thurs 2-4
Also listed as 103U.002 Theodore Varno is a graduate student affiliated with the Office for History of Science and Technology. He's interested in the history of biology in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly genetics and evolution; the history of agriculture, particularly plant and animal breeding; and the history of animals, particularly the domesticated kind. He's currently working on a dissertation that traces biological research on inbreeding from Darwin through the Evolutionary Synthesis. He can be reached at and would be happy to answer questions about the seminar.

Is it possible to write a history of non-human beings? What does it mean to say that an organism has a past? Grappling with the history of the non-human forces to the surface many of our hidden assumptions about human history. Each week, this seminar will examine a different animal at a different moment in history. In readings stretching from antiquity to late modernity, we will encounter animals as companions, commodities, curiosities, symbols, omens, and subjects of scientific inquiry. The seminar will analyze bestiaries, novels, natural histories, films, paintings, and physical exhibitions; our readings will be drawn from a wide range of disciplines, including zoology, literary criticism, psychology, semiotics, ecology, anthropology, philosophy of mind, and the sociology of science. Ultimately, we will use our investigation of the non-human to think about new ways to approach the writing of history.

Weekly readings will average 150 pages. Students will write two papers, around five pages apiece, based on the readings. Throughout the semester, each student will also design and complete a major historiographical project, the details of which will be worked out individually during September.