Roaming Through Animal Histories (part 2)

Well as promised, here is the second half of my run down of the animals and their histories, that put in an appearance at iCHSTM (International Congress for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine) last week in Manchester (21-28 July 201.

Well I began ‘Animal Day’ (as I took to calling last Wednesday, aka Day 3) with two papers on the history of entomology in Russia. Insect, or insect pests in particular, were the basis of two papers that considered issues of the professional vs. the amateur, and the change in the relationship between the 2 as the number of professionals increased.

Day 3 continued with ‘Beyond the Animal Model’, a session dedicated to all things (well almost all things) animal. We started with Francis Neary and the influence of the anecdote on Darwin’s revision of the first edition of The Descent of Man. Again questions were raised around this professional vs. lay scientist dichotomy, along with the importance of the dog as a conceptual aid to one of the most important scientific ‘discoveries’ of the nineteenth century. I then took to the stage and discussed how different Victorian definitions of the term ‘Community’ can be used to explain and explore the work of William Lauder Lindsay and his theory on the delicacy of the animal mind. I took the audience from the physical to the mental diseases of animals, raising questions of how the animal was commonly seen as the object, and less commonly as the subject for research into madness and moral insanity. My paper raised presented the role of the animal in Comparative Pathology in a different way than was seen by the third speaker, Abigail Woods, whose focus was on the absence of histories covering the role of animals in mid-nineteenth century British anatomical and physiological studies. The focus on the Pathological Societies of Edinburgh and London shed new light on where these animals can be found. And the session was rounded off by Axel Huntelmann, whose focus was the happiness of pigs, and one of the causes of their happiness, was their health. Huntelmann addressed the innoculation of pigs against erysipelas, as he discussed the role animals played in German public health research. (END of session 1)

Session 2 began with more pigs. Fellow Phd student Floor Haalboom’s pigs were sniffing rather than smiling as our attention was turned to the problems of influenza and the permeability of the (supposed) species barrier. This piggy-based cold was of greater interest to the doctors than to the veterinarians, posing questions as to the exact role these diseases play in the human-animal boundary narrative. Floor’s paper took us up to the mid-twentieth century, the same period as Rob Kirk’s work. His paper (and perhaps soon to be a book) presented the audience with an insight into an as yet hidden place of the animal in science. Before a life in a laboratory, the animal spends time in the animal house: somewhere they are neither a pet nor an object of study. The lab and the ‘house’ are sites that are viewed as 2 distinct spaces, governed by different sets of moral and regulatory rules. . Our final paper, from Jordan Bimm, explored America’s space monkeys – Able and Baker. From experimental objects to anthropomorphized American heroes, these two monkeys went on to star in movies and live in domestic bliss following their space adventures. Through Bimm’s work we can learn both about how space medicine was undertaken, and how as humans we can change our views of animals based on the ‘work’ they undertake. (END of Beyond the Animal Model)

Day 4 saw an array of animals involved in nineteenth century disputes over knowledge and knowledge-claims. Catherine Jackson invited animals into her history of synthetic chemistry, with the deaths of many hundreds of frogs in the search for the correct formulation of Coniine. Mike Finn, in his reporting on the neurophysiological work of David Ferrier covered dogs, cats, rabbits (I think) and monkeys, in almost a continuation of the discussion of the animal model yesterday. And finally Carin Berkowitz discussed the priority dispute of nerve functioning that arose from the work of Charles Bell (Britain) and Francois Magendie (France). We were spared(?) the vivisectional images of puppies from these two giants, instead being offered a chance to hear how the changing focus of debates around this work (from results to methodology) altered the public perception of the approach of experimental physiology. Even W. Ashworth’s paper on Excise duty and adulteration (of beer) did not escape without the animal – this time in cartoons depicting men as both piglets and bees.

My 5th (and final) day at the conference only featured one animal – the blood-hound. From hunting fox to hunting Jack-the-Ripper, Neil Pemberton’s paper on the forensic role of the hound highlighted the range of scientific, social, cultural questions that are embedded in animal use in ‘non-traditional’ spaces, yet for ‘traditional’ roles. The paper did raise one of my favourite questions of the week – “How do you calibrate a bloodhound?”

As I hope you have been able to gather from this blog, and the previous (part 1), animals have played many roles, in many spaces, at many times in many histories. And I have not documented all their appearances in Manchester either. In sessions I missed but heard about, delegates learned about: a boa constrictor swallowing a pig (useful for specimen transport); transgenic rabbits and mice (and as models how they black-box knowledge); the appearance of animal behaviour articles in 1960’s & 70’s Playboy on discussions of human nature; the resurrection of donkeys (and at least 1 ox) in curare experimentation; the circadian rhythms of mayflies and cockroaches; AND FINALLY the ‘Bird Brain’ machine, providing the user with the impression of playing a game of Noughts & Crosses against a chicken!

And I am sure there were many more animals roaming through iCHSTM last week that I missed. And I hoping my recording of their work here, goes someway to recognising how important animals have been to Science, Technology and Medicine through the ages.


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Filed under Insects, Moral Treatment of Animals, Science

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