Sahlins' current research project, "The Symbolic LIves of Animals," begins at the Royal Menagerie of Louis XIV, founded in 1663. He traces the textual and visual representations of animal bodies principally from the Menagerie, across the domains of literature, art, and science, focusing on the unusual concentration of artifacts and debates in or around 1668. That year was revolutionary, in literature (La Fontaine, Racine), natural science (Claude Perrault and the Royal Academy of Sciences), visual culture (the sketches, paintings, and tapistries of the Flemish animal artists at the court of Louis XIV), and public life (the affaire of animal-human blood transfusions in 1667-8. The convergent appearance of animals (frequently the same ones) in text and print, engraving and painting, anatomical description and literary fable, is studied here as an “event” – the 1668 Animal Revolution -- where, 1668 stands for a broader transformation, not so much in the lives of animals, but in the complex relations of political regime, scientific method, and artistic creation, a (re)formative moment of power, knowledge, and aesthetics that was framed by the rise of Louis XIV and the reception of Descartes in France. Animals in 1668 were good to think absolute authority, the problem of mechanism, and the Classical subject in the Age of Louis XIV.
Peter Sahlins is a historian of early modern France. The author of four books and numerous articles, his work has ranged from nineteenth-century forest history (Forest Rites, 1994) to the social and legal history of nationality law and citizenship (Unnaturally French, 2007; Taxing Foreigners, 1998) to his foundational work on the French-Spanish boundary and the construction of national identity in the borderland (Boundaries: the Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees, 1989). He has taught courses on all these subjects, as well as on his current research project, entitled "The Symbolic Lives of Animals and the Making of Early French Modernity." He has most recently given lectures and published articles on the Royal Labyrinth ("Where the Sun Don't Shine,") chameleons in salons and sciences ("A Tale of Three Chameleons,") and the animal-human blood transfusions of 1667 and 1668 "The Animals of the First Xenotransfusion Experiments"). He is the editor, with Christopher Pearson (Liverpool) of a special issue of French History, "French Animal Histories," forthcoming in 2014.