Social and Cultural History (Human-Animal Studies)
Social and cultural history explores the cultural constitution of societal live. In all human societies this live includes animals. To incorporate animals in its investigations, social and cultural history draws on insights from the interdisciplinary field of human-animal studies. As socio-cultural historical human-animal studies, it hopes to gain new perspectives on human history through investigating human-animal relations in a way that takes the formative contribution of animals in societies serious. Increasingly, however, such analyses places animals also at their center. Thus, approaching animals as historical agents not only ushers in a reevaluation of animal-human history – the change in perspective also promises new insights into historical research at large. As animal history, social and cultural history describes the course of history as it was actively influenced by animals.
Animal history assumes, for example, that major historical shifts often coincided with changes in animal-human relations, as in the case of domestication, that is, the cultivation of animals for human needs. Starting from pre- and early history, already with the Neolithic revolution the end of human nomadic live was explained by humans’ bonds with animals. Ancient empires built on animals as omnipotent pack and military units. However, in almost all societies that have been considered historiographically, animals served also always as omnipresent other for, above all, negative projections. Yet at the same time, the distinction between what was distinctly animal and what was distinctly human remained fluid up until early modern times. Mediaeval animal trials make this as much apparent as figurative representations, such as bestiaries. Modernity, in turn, is marked by a change in animal-human relations wherein animals entered intimate human spaces as companions on the one hand, and the onset of the industrial exploitation of animal bodies on the other.
Research in animal history primarily deals with the agency of animals as historical agents, the suitability of source material for writing animal history and the integration of animals into periodizations of human epochs. While animal history addresses all non-human species, it especially considers those that live in close relationships with humans. As social history, animal history is interested in how animals contributed and participated in the construction of human societies. Such an animal history centrally connects with other historical subdisciplines, such as environmental and colonial history, the history of emotions and body history, urban history and historical geography, gender history and history of knowledge and new cultural history. In Kassel, we teach animal history with a particular emphasis on late modern times. Moreover, we equally address the breadth of theoretical and methodological questions as well as deal with concrete animal-human relationships in the zoo, the home, animal welfare and environmental protection, science and film and TV, among others.