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 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. Continue reading
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.
Perhaps it was the chill in the air, the fact I finally pulled out my collection of jumpers, or that I even considered the need for a jacket, but something this morning told me that summer really was on its way out. (If it ever really arrived this year anyway). However, in this quiet moment of reflection, my thoughts wandered to all the changes in animal inhabitants of my garden that are becoming apparent. The number of spiders has risen quite dramatically, whilst the number of flying insects has steadily begun to fall. Fewer bees can be found buzzing around the roses and, thankfully, fewer wasps will be arriving, uninvited into the kitchen. But, perhaps, I have been misjudging wasps, and if you can spare me a few moments, I would like to try and explain my (slight) change of view.
Wasp – nasty or nice?. Copyright Peter Dahlgren, flickr
In a book that will in the future be referred to often on ‘tales of animals past’ Mind in the Lower Animals (1879), William Lauder Lindsay (Scottish Alienist and scholar of the animal mind), writes that man himself has ascribed the characteristics of irritability, ill-nature, spite and vengefulness onto wasps. And this in spite of their natural character which is quite the opposite Continue reading