This post starts from two seemingly diverse places:
Last month (Aug 2014) the University of Sussex published an article in ‘Current Biology’ (Vol 24 No. 15) on the important role played by the eye, and particularly the ears, in communication between horses. Now this may seem to be a very contemporary start to a historical blog, but I include it to show that visual communication remains in the 21st century a topic of interest as it was in the 19th century. Whilst the current study focused on the use of the ears and eyes in indicating attention to food, the use of facial features – the mouth, the eyes, the nose and even the ears – within intra- and inter-species communication, alongside more general body language, can be found in countless naturalist and anatomical writings from the 18th century onwards.
Pain is a difficult subject to write about, because it is a difficult concept to truly understand in a wider context than the personal. My experience pain, and therefore my understanding of pain, is different from yours. I cannot experience your pain, no matter how much I can empathise with it, and as such it remains something abstract within my experiential field. Javier Moscoso writes in Pain: A Cultural History (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) of pain being a temporary entity and one which “cannot be located either in the history of the passions or in the history of the sciences. For one thing, it does not refer to the acquisition of knowledge, but to the production of meaning.” Pain finds itself “halfway between the world of emotions and the realm of sensations…” As not only is pain a physical entity, it is also an emotional one; yet in both cases, a physical language, as much as a verbal language is used to express these (physical and emotional) feelings.
And therefore my two beginnings are brought together…….In the communication of pain – and here I emphasize communication not understanding – we, as humans relay on expression – both facial and bodily. And, as it turns out, so do the lower animals. But this notion is nothing new.
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: Continue reading
This year I chose to spend Valentine’s Day with the dead. Well, the living were there as well, but we were definitely outnumbered by the dead. The Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL (a great place if you have never been, as long as you like zoological exhibits) held a special night dedicated to animals and love. And it is to them that I owe a debt of thanks for the contents of this post. I was struck by the number of folklore tales, or superstitions depending on your point of view, that feature animals in relation to women and their love lives. So today’s blog will give you some ideas of how animals can help (or hinder) you Continue reading
2013 – Year of the Snake
It has been quite a while since I wrote a post, so I thought I should get back to my tales for the past. And what better time than New Year. So, I may have missed the start of the calendar year, but with the sound of Chinese New Year fireworks still ringing in my ears and the remains of a Chinese lantern disintegrating in my garden, it’s still New Year for me.
A browse through my ever growing collection of nineteenth century natural history books suggests to me that snakes were of less interest to those who made a living from the collection and observation of animals. Continue reading
As well as mad animals, I want this blog to address animals and the mad. By this I mean the role animals were playing in nineteenth century asylums. Animals were used in experimentation to understand the physiology and pathology of disease. At the same time they were also features of asylum galleries as pets and entertainment. And what can be said of the asylum farm as part of a therapeutic approach? I hope to explore all these issues over the next few months (or perhaps years).
As a start I point you towards my latest blog article, on the Asylum Science blog here. It’s an introduction to the subject, showing the range of ways in which animals appear in the asylum histories.
The Grave of Greyfriars Bobby
Close to the entrance of Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, stands a headstone inscribed ‘Let his Loyalty and Devotion be a lesson to us all’. The stone marks the grave of Greyfriars Bobby, whose famous story may be known to you. Many versions of this story have been told, as many historians search to find the definitive truth about this devoted Skye Terrier. However, like all good historical animal tales, and despite this myriad of opinions, there is something about the story of Greyfriars Bobby that people want to believe, at least I do.
Yet, occasionally you come across a new interpretation of the story that makes you stop and think. Well, this happened to me earlier this year, when I stumbled across a book with an alternative theory on the life and devotion of Bobby, and it got me thinking about the relationship between man and his best friend. And perhaps the loyalty and devotion is not as one-sided as we would like to believe.
I wrote the piece for the Queen Mary Centre for the History of the Emotions Blog. So instead of reposting it here, I thought I would just point you in its direction, so please click for ‘Loyalty and a Dog called Bobby‘ – you’ll find plenty of other posts to interest you there as well.