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Post/hum/anti/animal/ities: or, why the humanities need animals (but we don't need them)

Thursday 18 February 2016, 5.30PM to 7.00pm

Speaker(s): Professor Jason Edwards (History of Art), Dr David Orton (Archaeology), Dr Nicola Mcdonald (English), Dr Bob McKay (University of Sheffield), Dr Erica Sheen (English)

An HRC Lightning Rods event

A report on the environmental impacts of consumption and production commissioned by the UN in 2010 recommended a 'substantial world-wide diet change away from animal products'. What's the relationship between factory farming and university education? If there is a direct connection between environmental sustainability and what the Vegan Society describes as 'true compassion to animals', how is it expressed in the critical principles that underpin teaching and research in the humanities? Or indeed in the way we live our private and public lives under the intellectual regime of our individual 'disciplines'? Why don't we have sex with animals and eat each other? Is the conception of human rights fundamentally speciesist?

This Lightning Rods session poses the crucial question of animals in and beyond the humanities. We begin our debate with a challenge: if every aspect of social and cultural history is not merely incomplete but damaged, to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of humanimal relations, do the humanities face the inevitability of extinction, or slaughter? Should they give way, dis/gracefully, to a new theoretical über-species: critical animal studies?


Nicola McDonald is a medievalist interested in the way in which Middle English romance (the most important genre of secular literature to emerge from the middle ages) repeatedly asks 'modern' critical questions; and in how, moreover, the answers individual romances throw up still estrange us with their audacity. She will use the mid-fourteenth-century Chevalere Assigne (the shortest of the surviving romances), to open up discussion of what remains the final frontier of humanimal relations: bestiality.  

David Orton is an archaeologist interested, amongst other things, in the role of herds and herding in long-term social change during the Neolithic. He will take a critical, personal look at post-humanities from a standpoint on the scientific fringes of the humanities, asking what the acceptance of animals as persons and as agents can actually contribute to the understanding of domestication and of subsequent change in prehistoric communities.

Erica Sheen lets animals have their say in everything she writes and teaches: on Shakespeare; on American and European post-war film, and on the Cold War. She will speak about European art film of the 1960s and 70s, and argue that critical responses to the terms of animal presence in contemporary cinema require a reconfiguration of the interdisciplinarities that define the academic humanities.

Guest speaker and respondent

We are delighted to welcome Bob McKay, from the University of Sheffield, where he teaches Literature, Film and Theory, and is also University Director of Learning and Teaching. Bob has been instrumental in the development of animal studies in the UK, co- writing the influential study Killing Animals (Illinois, 2006) with the Animal Studies Group. He has published numerous essays on the politics of species in contemporary literature and film. His most recent work, on conservation ethics and the politics of value, will appear in Against Value in the Arts and Education, co-edited with Sam Ladkin and Emile Bojesen (Roman and Littlefield International, 2016).

Chair: Jason Edwards

Location: The Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building

Admission: All are welcome