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Celebration of Scholarship and Creative Activity 2022

“Anthropocentrism and Other Problems in Animal History: Methodological Reflecetions”

Quill Graham

Junior, History


Do not let the term “humanities” fool you: history is no longer just for people. In the past ten years, historians have started writing “animal histories,” which center animals as historical subjects. These scholars respond to modern environmental and animal rights concerns by attempting to challenge traditional human-oriented narratives. These pioneering works, however, tend to appear haphazardly in publications and reflect no methodological uniformity. After a brief orientation to animal history as a growing subfield, this paper identifies promising methodological approaches while critiquing common anthropocentric pitfalls. I introduce the concept of the proximal perspective as one tool to avoid such problems. The final section of this paper uses Violette Pouillard’s essay “A History From Below of a Changing Zoo” as a model of excellent animal history that centers the animal, engages in responsible scholarship, and creates a “usable past.”

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