Roaming Through Animal Histories (part 1)

Well hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of historians of science have descended on Manchester for iCHSTM (that’s the International Congress for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine for those who don’t know). We are spending a week here talking about all things historically scientific. Now I realise I haven’t posted anything for months, but I do have a couple of stories I almost complete for you. So in the meantime I thought I would let you know all the animals that have been roaming through iCHSTM so far this week:

Monday’s animal wonders began in the C18th gardens off John Hunter and Edward Jenner, featuring peevish bees and hedgehogs (as distractions from love), as well as mammals of all size, in a paper by Clare Hickman.

This was closely followed by Anita Guerrini’s work on the kitchen as an experimental space, particular a site of animal dissection. And what better a place than site where blood and carcasses aware a common site, and the tools of the trade (knives) were readily available. A heterotopia within a domestic space.

Ed Ramsden opened day 2 with dogs called Nick and B3, owned by W. Horsley Gantt. The expressive nature of a dog’s tail, manifesting emotions visually to a greater degree perhaps even than human language, is a notion I really enjoyed. Sheep and goats also got a look in, but as species less useful in the study of neurosis. It was dogs all the way, even cats were rejected.

Moving from America to Germany, Nadine Weidman, turned our attention to Ethology and the work of Konrad Lorenz. Ethology as a science of emotion brought much to my mind of my own work on Comparative Psychopathology as also a science of emotion (of more later). Negotiating a science that relied on the anecdote and anthropomorphic language posed greater difficulties than in the mid-19th century. For Lorenz, animals were emotional people with little intelligence. Weidman filled her paper with the photographs of Lorenz with his wildfowl objects (or perhaps subjects of study), melting even the hardest historian heart.

Rounding off day 2 were three papers in a session ominously titled: Animals, Monsters and Culture. We began on the shores of 19thc Sweden, and the management of an ocean animal research centre, by non-naturalists. Knowing what to preserve and send to the naturalists, and indeed how to preserve it correctly were all challenges faced. And how do you transport an octopus (and other large sea-creatures) from one coast of Sweden to the other? As Helena Ekerholm explained the process involved preservation in alcohol, carefully packing and travel on the tourist train routes.

We moved on to James Hall’s study of snakes in the late 18th and early 19th century. Now not my ideal animal of study, but Hall’s work explored both the scientific and entertainment ‘value’ of these creatures. Once again the images amazed, from paintings of snakes devouring large cats to the flyers advertising opportunities to watch these serpents devour animals many times their size. Many dichotomies aware raised as the role of snakes in societies during this period.

And to round off the day we focused on coral. The 19thc animal, still seen now by some as animals, by others as plants, changed from a threatening to a threatened entity in Alistair Sponsel’s paper. Animals proper, in the forms of great white sharks and tigers, appeared at the end as species that have also been subject to this changing view – from dangerous to endangered.

I have tried to attend every paper in which animals have featured, but I know I have missed discussions of cats and many other creatures. And I am still here for another 3 days! So this blog is really part 1 of 2, to be continued later this week….

To find out what is going on, follow all the live twitter action (#ichstm) or visit http://www.ichstm2013.com for the programme, blogs and the live stream

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Filed under Emotional Animals, Science

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