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Human-Animal Studies: Courses in History

History Overview

This is a list of colleges and universities in North America that provide courses for History in relation to the human-animal relationship.  This includes the name of the college, the name of the course, who is teaching the course, and brief description of the History course that the instructor will be covering.


Ball State University

A History of Animals in the Atlantic World

Abel Alves

The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once wrote that animals are not only “good to eat” but they are “good to think.”  Throughout the course of human history, people have interacted with other animals, not only using them for food, clothing, labor and entertainment, but also associating with them as pets and companions, and even appreciating their behaviors intrinsically.  Nonhuman animals have been our symbols and models, and they have even channeled the sacred for us.  This course will explore the interaction of humans with other animals in the context of the Atlantic World from prehistoric times to the present.  Our case studies will include an exploration of our early hominid heritage as prey as well as predators; our domestication of other animals to fit our cultural needs; how nonhuman animals were used and sometimes respected in early agrarian empires like those of Rome and the Aztecs; how Native American, African and Christian religious traditions have wrestled with the concept of the animal; the impact of the Enlightenment and Darwinian thought; and the contemporary mechanization of life and call for animal rights.  Throughout the semester, we will be giving other animals voice, even as Aristotle in The Politics said they possessed the ability to communicate.  We will also explore who we are as a unique species and what we share with other animals.


California State University Long Beach

Human Animal Relationships in Historical Perspective

Brett Mizelle

This seminar on the literature of history is designed to engage with a wide-range of scholarship on the history of the relationships between human and non-human animals. This literature, sometimes grouped under the rubric “animal studies” (a term that, as we will see, comes with its own problems), emerged as a subset of social, cultural, and environmental history, although parallel inquiries into the human use and “thinkability” of non-human animals were occurring in anthropology, literary studies, and the biological sciences. Much of the work in this emergent interdisciplinary field has been, like the social and cultural history before it, connected to larger social movements, many of relatively recent vintage. The term “speciesism”-used to connote prejudice against non-human animals similar in kind to racism and sexism-was only coined in 1970, for example, when there was a renewed interest in the idea of animal protection and animal rights. In this seminar we will trace the rise of interest in the welfare of animals and the subsequent shift toward the idea that non-human animals may deserve some of the same moral and legal considerations typically extended to humans. In the process, we will necessarily interrogate the relationship between the past and the present, which explains why several of our readings and texts are not traditional historical monographs.


Columbia University

Animals from Aristotle to Agamben

Samuel Moyn

This class is a reading survey about how the Western philosophical and theological tradition has conceptualized the difference between humans and (other) animals. Are humans animals? (What are animals, first of all?) If humans are animals, how to conceptualize their differences? Either way, what are the consequences for how to understand oneself and treat animals? What is the nature of human dignity, and does it depend on some plausible distinction of humans from animals? The course culminates in six prominent contemporary philosophers who have turned the traditions they have inherited towards the problem of animals. (Note: this is not a class about animal rights except indirectly, insofar as the question of whether rights might or might not accrue to animals will depend on a prior study of the status of the human-animal border.)


Johns Hopkins University

Massimo Petrozzi

Thinking & Living with Animals  

In the last twenty years the multi-disciplinary field of human-animal studies has grown enormously. Scholars with different backgrounds have begun to study and analyze our interactions with animals. In laboratories, restaurants, grocery stores, shops, and streets, we find ourselves interacting or talking about animals without often being aware of it. Discussing different episodes and discourses in human history, ‘Thinking and living with animals’ will provide an opportunity for students to re-think the experiences they had, have and will have with animals. This course will provide an overview of this new field and will help students understand the complex social and cultural processes that endlessly shape our perception of animals in our lives. The course will begin with a review of the most important approaches scholars have applied to the study of human-animal relationships. The rest of the course will be dedicated to analyzing different episodes in history, focusing not only on the way in which discourses and knowledge about animals shaped our identities, as for example in the case of comparative anatomy and psychology, but also on the way in which actual interactions between human and animals bodies produce knowledge.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Introduction to Environmental History

Harriet Ritvo

Focusing primarily on the period since 1500, explores the influence of climate, topography, plants, animals, and microorganisms on human history and the reciprocal influence of people on the environment. Topics include the European encounter with the Americas, the impact of modern technology, and the historical roots of the current environmental crisis.

People and Other Animals

Harriet Ritvo

A historical survey of the ways that people have interacted with their closest animal relatives, for example: hunting, domestication of livestock, worship of animal gods, exploitation of animal labor, scientific study of animals, display of exotic and performing animals, and pet keeping. Themes include changing ideas about animal agency and intelligence, our moral obligations to animals, and the limits imposed on the use of animals.

Nature, Environment and Empire

Harriet Ritvo


Michigan State University

Animals and Social Transformations

Linda Kalof

This course is an historical overview of the cultural relationship between humans and other animals and how those relationships have changed with changing social conditions. Both visual imagery and extracts from historical and literary sources will be used to experience the human-animal story throughout history. The course draws on a wealth of information about the animal-human relationship, covering a range of topics rarely discussed in animal cultural studies, such as the Black Plague, dead animal portraiture and animal rituals that reflect hierarchies of gender, race and class, including the medieval backwards ride, horning ceremonies and animal massacres. The course is open to all interested graduate students in the university.


Michigan State University/Lyman Briggs College

Animal Histories

Georgina Montgomery

This course will analyze the various ways in which human society understands and interacts with wildlife. Human/animal relationships will be examined in a range of physical locations, including the laboratory, field, national park and zoo, and in a range of cultural and social settings. Within these various contexts we will examine how humans relate to animals, how these relationships have been defined and represented, and the consequences of these relationships for human identity.


Montana State University

Animal Histories

Brett Walker

This course is designed to investigate the interrelationship between human and nonhuman animals in comparative historical settings, ones elucidated through the interdisciplinary approach of science, technology, cultural studies, and straight history. Increasingly, historians have begun to investigate the role of nonhuman animals in shaping human history and, even more intriguingly, the potential for nonhumans to experience and generate histories of their own. This course offers an opportunity to participate in this pioneering field of inquiry. From the calories that fuel our society to the large predators that continue to haunt our collective imaginations, nonhumans directly participate in and shape our histories, cultures, and ecologies.


Northeastern University

History of Human-Animal Relations

Clay McShane


Northwestern University

The Human Animal Relationship in Historical Perspective

Susan Pearson

This course will examine the problems and possibilities of studying the human-animal relationship in historical perspective. Building on recent scholarship, we will consider how animals have served as symbols in human culture, as raw material for human industry, and as companions in human lives.


State University of New York

Animals in History

Dorothee Brantz

Nature and the Environment in Comparative Perspective

Dorothee Brantz


University of California, Santa Barbara

History of Animal Use in Science

Anita Guerrini

Using a variety of sources, this course will explore the ways humans have thought about and used animals in science and medicine from the seventeenth century to the present. How has science constructed the boundaries between humans and animals, and what have the consequences been for each?


University of California, Santa Cruz

Donna Haraway

Readings in Science Studies: Science Studies Meets Critter Studies

Emphasizing diverse cultures, histories, politics, and scenes, this seminar will examine the knot tied by science and technology studies, animal studies, postcolonial studies, cultural studies, film, art practice, and literary fiction. The matrix is the weave of biopower, biocapital, bioart, and bioscience within which historically located multispecies relationships co-constitute each other. The key question throughout is, how might histories be inherited; how might still be flourishing be possible? If we take seriously the need for survivable categories not based on “the human” and its constitutive exclusions, what inter- and intra-active worlds might take shape? Note that the term “critter” in this seminar can designate people, technologies, and all sorts of living and dead organisms—all in parts and wholes and in many media.

Geofeminisms II: Phylogeography, Love and Justice

Phylogeography is the geography of lineage membership. In our exploration, we begin with multi-species assemblages through which human natures emerge.   The seminar then offers a dialogue between two foci of analysis: landscape figures (interspecies arrangements) and intimate encounters (interspecies negotiations). A crosscutting dialogue addresses human relations with animals, on the one hand, and plants, on the other; where the first stimulates questions about contact and difference, the latter inspires discussion of cultivation and variety. The course crisscrosses between these two dialogues to open feminist curiosity about geographies of love and justice. We also have another theme: the multiplicity of genres through which disciplined feminist discussion can take place. In this course, we open our analytic lens to consider the possibilities of fiction and fantasy, of maps and museum displays, and of art and archives.

Animal Studies as Science Studies: We Have Never Been Human


University of Washington

Animals: Articulating human and non-human struggles

Maria Elena Garcia

How are animal rights and feminist movements connected? Does eating meat perpetuate notions of patriarchy? Can we successfully challenge the exploitation of human beings without also fighting for the rights of non-human animals? Can we morally distinguish between human and non-human exhibitionism? How do notions of class structure our choices about eating habits? This course explores some ethical, political, and cultural questions regarding animals, or as philosopher Peter Singer calls them, non-human animals. Specifically, it looks at the cultural production of difference between humans and non-humans, as well as the tactics, strategies, and ideologies behind animal rights movements. Drawing on debates in anthropology, philosophy, literature, and politics, this course invites students to interrogate the discourses and practices that reduce animals to “inferior beings.” The class also asks students to critically examine their own relationships with animals, to explore cultural debates about animals and the environment, vegetarianism, the industrial food complex, health, zoos, and animal experimentation (among other topics), and to think about the discourse of “rights” more concretely. Moreover, this seminar will emphasize the significance of the animal rights movement and its connections to other global movements for cultural, social and environmental justice.

Animals in Global Perspectives

Maria Elena Garcia

This course examines the multiple ways in which animals have entered transnational flows through the international economy of food and development programs, and the transnational movement around animal rights. The globalization of the “factory farm” model of production has implications for human and non-human animal lives as the epidemics of “mad cow” disease, avian flu, and “swine” flu have recently and dramatically demonstrated. While these diseases are often seen as separate to the “normal” workings of international political economies, this seminar will explore how they have emerged in and through the processes of industrialization and globalization. Students will also examine the implications of development programs that place “traditional animals” at the center of new strategies to confront poverty in many parts of the developing world. We will engage this new development literature and ask what the cultural and economic implications of this process are for local communities who often value animals for religious and social reasons that are incommensurable with the metrics of international development. Finally, students will explore the ethical and moral debates that have emerged under the rubrics of animal rights and animal welfare. While this debate has largely been seen as a “First World” phenomenon, this course will look at how concerns for the lives of non-human animals have been expressed by local communities and activists in a global context. Taking animals as the proverbial “fish in the water,” this course seeks to complicate and de-naturalize the common sense understandings that make non-human animals an all too invisible part of world politics.

Suffering: Animals, Violence, and the Consequences of Silence.

Maria Elena Garcia

This advanced seminar invites students to engage intellectually with the idea and experiences of suffering. How do we think about suffering and, perhaps more importantly, how do we not think about it? Reviewing philosophical, cultural, and social questions about the nature of pain and violence, this course pays special attention to the suffering of non-human animals. In the United States, approximately 10 billion animals are killed each year in the food industry alone, although this does not include fish or other sea animals. Throughout the world, millions of animals are used in illegal fighting and trafficking circles, used in medical experiments, and killed in harrowing ways for their fur and skin. The pain and suffering that these and other animals endure in life, and during the process of death, is mostly hidden from public view. Do we consider the fate of pigs, chinchillas, or mice, in the same way that we think about the dogs or cats with whom we share a home? How do humans make decisions about the relative importance (and non-importance) of the suffering of particular animals? What are the consequences of those decisions?

Violent Intimacies: Encountering the Animal

Maria Elena Garcia

Our readings and discussions this spring will focus on the “question of the animal” or what I call the “violent intimacies” of human-animal encounters. The “question of the animal” is one that feminists, philosophers, scientists, activists, and many others have been grappling with for centuries. Over the past decade, however, the interdisciplinary field of animal studies has expanded greatly. Interest in animal studies, which had been building since at least the 1964 publication of Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines, gathered increased steam in 1975 with Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, and reached new audiences with the 1997 lectures given by Jacques Derrida (subsequently published as The Animal That Therefore I Am). Receiving the sustained attention of scholars in philosophy, literature, history, anthropology, geography, political science, and other disciplines, animal studies, in the words of a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “has become a force to be reckoned with.” This course will introduce students to some of the key scholars writing about human-animal encounters. We will engage the different approaches used to think about human-animal relationships and entanglements, and explore broad themes like animality and difference, science and representation, captivity and spectacle, and the power of witnessing. In addition to engaging films, texts, and each other, we will take a field trip to a local farm sanctuary. Please note that one of the seminar assignments is to write a brief ethnography of a visit to the Woodland Park Zoo or the Seattle Aquarium. This will require that you spend at least 2-3 hours in either the Zoo or the Aquarium.

Animal Planet: Food, Development and Activism in Global Perspective

Maria Elena Garcia


University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

“Best Friends”: History of Human-Animal Relations

Helena Pycior

Seminar in History: History of Human-Animal Relations

Helena Pycior


Virginia Tech

Amy Nelson

Deep History and Domestication: The Animal Side of Human Life

Domestic animals are essential to our lives: They provide calories that fuel our bodies, companionship as pets, inspiration for our collective imaginations, and service as guardians, hunters, and scientific research subjects. These contemporary relationships have historical antecedents stretching back to the emergence of humanity as a species. Indeed the process of domestication was an essential part of the development and diversity of human culture. This Honors Colloquium will examine the cultural and biological implications of domestication for humans and other species, using examples extending from the first archeological evidence of domestication to the recent past. Drawing on recent research in the life sciences and behavioral sciences we will also consult the texts and analytical tools of humanists and social scientists in order to understand how the process of domestication has shaped and continues to inform the human experience. We will question the chronological and conceptual divide we assume exists between natural history and the history of human culture and civilization. The course should also help us to appreciate the role of animals in shaping human histories, and to consider the possibility that non-humans might generate their own histories.


York University

Envision Animals: Animals and Visual Culture

Matthew Brower

This course deals with the role of visual depictions of animals in aesthetic, activist, environmental and biological contexts. It explores the role of imagery in constituting contemporary and historical conceptions of animality. The course objectives are to develop an understanding of the importance of imagery in human-animal relations.

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