Select Page

Editor’s Introduction: Sloth Vol. 1 No. 1

Welcome to the first issue of Sloth, the new journal for undergraduates in Human-Animal Studies!

The past two decades or so have witnessed the dramatic rise of human-animal studies as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry spanning the humanities and natural and social sciences. Especially in the last decade, the effects of this sea change have become increasingly visible at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Data collected by the Animals and Society Institute document more than 500 human-animal studies courses offered in more than 170 colleges and universities, and what began as a handful of human-animal studies programs housed in veterinary schools has expanded to a list of nearly 40 undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs encompassing a diverse array of disciplines. Increased student demand for courses in the field has led to the publication of numerous textbooks, readers, and teaching resources, and the emergence of forums like the annual student conference sponsored by the Institute for Critical Animal Studies and the “Taking Animals Apart” graduate conference to be held at the University of Wisconsin in 2015 testify to the proliferation of student scholarship in the field. In the spirit of fostering and recognizing the exciting contributions of students to this still-growing field, Sloth showcases outstanding work in human-animal studies by current and recent undergraduates. The six essays featured in our inaugural issue represent a broad range of disciplinary perspectives, including conservation biology, environmental ethics and philosophy, literary criticism, and media and cultural studies. Together, they exemplify the interdisciplinary perspectives, intellectual rigor, and creative engagement with more-than human worlds that have come to characterize the best work in human-animal studies.

The essays by Mallory Abel, Kaitlyn Gilbert, and Lanna Giauque address issues of philosophy and sustainability. While Giauque’s work examines specific implications of wildlife management program philosophies from the perspective of conservation science, Abel and Gilbert take wider philosophical views on the ethics of sustainable environmental practices. In her analysis of sea turtle management programs in Florida, Costa Rica, and Grand Cayman, Giauque find that regional variation in approaches that embrace-instead of reject-local traditions (whether that be consumption or tourism) are all equally effective in providing money and resources to aid an endangered species. The implication is that there are a variety of roads to sustainability and that defining just one beneficial human-animal relationship is not necessary to achieve that goal. Abel too allows for variation in our relationships with nonhuman animals and acknowledges the prevalence not just of cultural differences but of individual materialism and self-interest. She addresses the contradictions between beliefs and practice, specifically arguing through the lens of virtue ethics that biophilia would lead to self-fulfillment, and that environmental policies need not be economically beneficial for humans to embrace them. Finally, Gilbert uses a preference utilitarian approach to argue for sustainable agricultural practices. She proposes that nonhuman animal preferences to live in sanitary conditions outweighs human preferences for profit and suggests that better agricultural practices would lead to improved environmental conditions for all species-including humans. All three of these authors offer perspectives on the economics and ethics of human-animal relationships. Considering the philosophical arguments of Abel and Gilbert along with the case studies of Giauque underlines the important interdisciplinary dialogue all scholars of the field should pursue.

In their respective essays, Ashley Paolozzi, Sandy Burnley, and Tessa Cunningham share an interest in representation and its impact on the material lives of human and nonhuman animals. Paolozzi and Burnley examine literary representations of animals and animality in the 19th century-a period that witnessed dramatic shifts in understandings of the human/animal divide and of humans’ obligations to other animals-while Paolozzi studies intersecting representations of human and nonhuman animal bodies in contemporary visual media. In her analysis of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and the accompanying illustrations created by 19th-century political cartoonist John Tenniel, Paolozzi reads Alice’s encounters with the nonhuman inhabitants of Wonderland as a complex commentary on Victorian Londoners’ attempts to control animality through containment and display. By interweaving historical context with literary and visual analysis, she demonstrates how Lewis’s text and Tenniel’s illustrations critique the Victorian zoos, menageries, and natural history museums as attempts to exercise and affirm human power over other animals. Burnley offers an incisive interpretation of H. G. Wells’s novel The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), in which a physiologist attempts to surgically transform nonhuman animals into human beings. Arguing that Moreau’s violent efforts to purge his victims of their animality have the unintended consequence of confirming the “humanity” of nonhuman animals, Burnley concludes that Wells’s novel both exposes the tenuousness of the species divide and challenges readers to learn to recognize nonhuman subjectivities. Cunningham likewise interrogates the species divide in her provocative analysis of representations of milk in contemporary visual culture, revealing how the symbolic connection between milk and female sexuality becomes taboo when viewers are reminded of milk’s biological origins. Applying Carol Adams’ concept of the absent referent to a range of advertisements, Cunningham argues that attempts to sell milk products using sexualized female images require suppression of the absent referent and regulation of the reproductive capacities of both human and nonhuman female bodies. Collectively, these essays demonstrate the co-constitutive nature of represented and material worlds, revealing that how we represent other animals both reflects and shapes their lives and our relationships with them.

Animals occupy a place in our world that forces us to question our selves, our culture, our ethics, and our environment. Studying these human-animal relationships gives students an unparalleled opportunity to use the critical thinking skills so central to undergraduate and early graduate education. More poignantly, as many of these essays suggest, when we think about animals, we think about ethics. Whether these writers go on to careers in academic fields or not, the work they have done thus far displays a deep sense of responsibility to the natural world. By giving voice to young scholars in the field, Animals and Society Institute hopes to nurture a new generation of minds who will contribute to, and even challenge, the work of their mentors.

-Kelly Enright, Assistant Professor of History, Director of Public History, Flagler College
-Kara Kendall-Morwick, Assistant Professor of English, Washburn University

Next article

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Unless otherwise noted, all content on this website is copyright © 2020 The Animals and Society Institute. Please visit https://www.animalsandsociety.org/about-asi/website-reprint-and-use-policies to find out more about our reprint and use policies.

Share Us Online