Beasts of America: Perspectives on Animals and Animality in U.S. Culture, 1776-1920 (Abstracts due January 15th, 2015)

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Dominik Ohrem
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In American history, animals are everywhere. They are a ubiquitous presence in myriad historical, literary, biographical, scientific and other texts and narratives of the American past – a past that, both different from and just like the present, was characterized by a multiplicity of relations between humans and animals ranging from intimate co-existence to exploitation and outright violence. A host of quintessentially American species such as the bison and mustang of the Western plains or the grizzly, admired by California mountain man James Capen Adams as "the monarch of American beasts", continue to inhabit the discursive, imaginary and, now to a much lesser degree, the geographical spaces of the nation. Not only the various denizens of the mytho-historical American wilderness, however, but also and especially the less "formidable" and less uniquely American creatures of civilization were vitally important in the genesis of the modern United States: the domesticated animals whose labor and bodies sustained and continue to sustain American society; the selection of species that became the object of an American pet culture – "dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, all packed together in the affection of their master," as Jean Baudrillard puts it in his typically bleak irony – particularly in the context of the emergent American middle-class and bourgeois conceptions of family life and domesticity. Finally, it is perhaps in the spectral guise of human animality – an object of intense concern, interest and anxiety among nineteenth-century Americans – that the animal most ominously haunts and unsettles the kingdom of the human(ist) subject.

And yet, it is precisely the animal's ubiquity in the past and present of American culture and society that all the more forcefully underlines its at best shadowy presence in traditional strands of American (and European) historiography. Just like the corporeal, animal life of the human, nonhuman animals appear to inhabit a realm beyond the pale of serious historical inquiry: they are, it seems, both an unworthy and an impossible object of historiographical practice. Fortunately, throughout the last decade or so, the study of animals, animality and human-animal relations has garnered increasing scholarly attention across the disciplines and what is now often referred to as Human-Animal Studies is no longer confined to an existence at the margins of academia. This wider academic acceptance of the animal brings with it, among other things, not only great potential for interdisciplinary work, but also a number of thorny methodological as well as political and ethical questions. What exactly are we writing about when (we think) we are writing about the animal? What and where is the animal in between the domains of nature and culture which, in their neat separation, are themselves merely human inventions? Can we free ourselves from the grip of a deeply entrenched anthropocentric humanism and develop academic perspectives that acknowledge and embrace the animal?

These questions are, of course, hopelessly beyond the scope of a single volume. However, keeping them in mind and in the hope that a critical, interdisciplinary historical perspective may contribute to their resolution, this collection seeks to address the question of the animal in the American "long nineteenth-century" from the Revolutionary period to the massive social, cultural and political transformations of the Progressive Era. We welcome contributions from historical, cultural and literary studies and related disciplines and also strongly encourage essays that combine their historical, literary or cultural analysis with methodological or philosophical questions pertaining to the study of animals, animality and human-animal relations.

The following are some of the possible questions and topics that may be addressed in the contributions to this volume:

• In what ways did discourses and imaginings of animality, relations between humans and animals as well as the specter of the human as animal shape American society and the American cultural imaginary?

• How did the question of the animal figure in and intersect with the histories of gender, sexuality, race, class and/or dis/ability and the relations between different groups of Americans?

• How did Native, African or other Americans think about, live with or differentiate themselves from nonhuman animals, particularly in the face of the pervasive conceptual alliance between animality and racialization in white supremacist discourses?

• How did scientific, literary and other conceptions of the human-animal boundary as well as animal consciousness, intelligence, emotions or language relate to or enable contemporary constructions of "the human"?

• What was the impact and relevance of animal rights, wildlife protection and conservation ideas and practices and how did they interrelate with other social movements and transformations in American society?

• How did animal lives and human-animal relations change in the context of modernization, urbanization and industrialization?

We are looking for proposals on any of the topics mentioned above or other topics dealing with animals, animality and human-animal relations in United States culture between 1776 and 1920.

Please send an abstract of no more than 500 words outlining your intended contribution and short biographical information to by January 15th, 2015. Finished papers are due September 1st, 2015. The publication is planned for early 2016.

We are looking forward to reading your proposals!

Norbert Finzsch (
Dominik Ohrem (