Wild Things: A Cultural History of Animals, 1700-1900

Tutor: Stephanie Howard-Smith (tutor for 2018-19) / Helen Cowie

Module type: Explorations

Module code: HIS00085I

Animals have played a crucial role in human history. Valued as beasts of burden, consumed as food, hunted for sport, exhibited for pleasure and studied by scientists, animals have shaped the development of European society. At the same time, they have themselves elicited contradictory human emotions, from curiosity and pity to affection and fear. This module explores the evolution of human-animal relations in the years 1700-1900 and uses the history of animals to explore wider cultural and social developments during this period. We look at animals in a variety of settings, from the circus ring to the laboratory, the savannah to the dinner table, considering their contrasting roles as commodities, specimens, companions and victims of abuse. Students will get the chance to study the history of animals through a range of primary sources, including novels, art, zoo guides and RSPCA reports.

Seminars will likely cover the following areas:

    • From Horsemeat to Foie-gras: Animals as Food
    • Pampered Pooches: The Rise of Pet-Keeping in Europe
    • Cruelty and Compassion: Animal Welfare and Changing Social Attitudes
    • Caged Wonders: Exhibiting Exotic Animals in the Zoo
    • Menageries and the Circus: Animal Performance and Display
    • From the Wunderkammer to the Natural History Museum: Collecting and Classifying the Natural World
    • Tortured Dogs and Murderous Scientists: Animals in the Laboratory
    • Representing the Animal: Animals in Art and Literature

Group project work will focus on the idea of animal biography. Students will complete a detailed study of a well-known individual animal to elucidate the wider themes and issues of animal history. Sources will be provided on a range of animals – from Jumbo the elephant to Greyfriars Bobby. Alternatively, students may choose their own subject in consultation with the module leader.


Fore more information, please visit the module catalogue.