Since prehistoric times, the lives of non-human animals have been interwoven with those of human animals. Philosophically, animals have frequently served as a counterpoint for thinking about what it means to be human. Animals have been used by humans for food and labor, for security and transportation, in scientific testing, and often as helpers and companions of their human keepers. Animals have been kept as curiosities, for the pleasing sounds they make, for their visual and auditory mimicry of people, and assigned tasks that highlight their superhuman species-specific sensory adaptations, such as the work of bomb-sniffing canines at airports.
At the same time, humans have become increasingly aware of our encroachments on non-human animals through urbanization, deforestation, and hunting, and of our role in the extinction or near-extinction of many species, as well as how animal agriculture contributes to global warming. Legislation to protect animals from unnecessary suffering has become common in many countries, and some theorists and lawyers have argued that “human” rights should be extended to certain non-human animals.
Themester 2018, Animal/Human, will explore the interconnectedness of animals and humans by drawing from the concepts, data, theories and methods of the arts, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. More specifically, it will investigate the role of animals in history, scientific research, literature, philosophy, and art and film in order to analyze and understand the place of humans on the animal continuum.
Such analyses will help us understand the complexity of contemporary U.S. conceptualizations of animals and shed light on our global understanding of humanity.