During the last several decades Animal Studies has emerged as a newly central focus of scholarship in disciplines throughout the humanities and social sciences.   "The Animal turn" in academic research has expanded the range of possible research topics in disciplines from art history, cultural studies, and philosophy to history, sociology, and anthropology, while suggesting new relationships between scholars and their subjects, and new understandings of the role of animals in the past and at present. At the same time, Animal Studies has remained at the border of established disciplines, a location that is the source of much of its appeal and power.

Like many interdisciplinary research areas, Animal Studies brings divergent, complementary, and mutually enriching approaches to bear on a common thematic focus.  Throughout the social sciences and the humanities, scholars now consider animals (their functions, and even their experiences) as subjects in a sense previously reserved for humans.  Even in fields where animal topics have been routine, such as agricultural history, the farmyard creatures are now less likely to be abstracted through quantification, and more likely to appear as individual creatures, or at least groups of individual creatures. And as has been the case with some other emergent or recently emerged areas of scholarly investigation, academic interest resonates with issues in the news. As organized labor, civil rights, decolonization, and women's liberation inspired sympathetic scholars, so have, in their turn, the advocates of hunted whales, poached tigers, abandoned dogs, and overcrowded pigs.   Panda diplomacy, the anti-vivisection movement, pest control: all these invest animals with crucial socio-political meaning. A focus on human relationships with other animals illuminates the study of ancient cultures as well as modern ones, western as well as non-western.  As Animal Studies has expanded the range of topics available to scholars, it has also opened new possibilities of connection between the social sciences and humanities, and the life sciences.  We will engage a wide range of research methods including the analysis of representation and discourse, ethnography and interviews, archival and data analysis.

Students from varied disciplines are encouraged to apply, including history, history of science, visual and media studies, literary and cultural studies, sociology, religion, law, philosophy, and anthropology.  Such interdisciplinary exposure will produce stimulating exchanges, and enable students to explain their proposed work to a general academic audience. Through conferences and group discussions, students will develop in both workshops their individual research projects, and will also participate in field-building activities, focusing on such topics as "making" animals (from breeding to biotech), animal-human boundaries, representing and displaying, conservation and extinction, and animals as symbols.


  • Noah Cincinnati

    Johns Hopkins University, History

    "The White Man's Other Burden: Zoos, Empire, and American Wildlife Conservation, 1889-1924."
    The Bronx and National Zoos, established at the end of the nineteenth century, were critical spaces where Americans encountered wildlife from across the continent and globe. Only recently have animals and zoos begun to receive substantial historical attention. Scholars have explored how American zoos were part of city beautification movements and how the zoos reflected broader attempts to recreate more perfect forms of nature. While useful, historians have been less willing to examine how animals on display in American zoological parks were part of a larger imperial world. American zoos were an intricate part of the practical and ideological machinery of American empire and Progressive-era conservation. This project focuses mostly on the intentions of zoo officials and zoological societies, while also considering how the public participated in the experience of animal exhibition. In my dissertation, I plan to use archival material on the Bronx and National Zoos, from 1889 to 1924, as a lens to uncover a hidden dimension of animal exhibition and conservation—one rooted in imperialism and nativism. In doing so, it is my hope to blend American cultural, imperial, and environmental history into a single narrative for students and scholars alike.
  • Colter Ellis

    University of Colorado / Boulder, Sociology

    Animals, Inequality, and the Environment
    Today’s agricultural practices are more abusive of animals than those in use at any other time in human history. Scholars of animal studies clearly note the connection between animal exploitation and the oppression of human groups, such as women and minorities. This connection constitutes the theoretical foundation for my proposed dissertation topic. Building on data collected through my course work and in collaboration with faculty, my proposed dissertation topic will use ethnography to explore animal-human relationships at four stages in the beef production chain. The first stage is 4H, an agriculturally based youth program that provides early socialization into the field of animal agriculture. The second stage will investigate cow/calf operations, often understood as “cattle ranches.” These operations range between 50 to 1000 cattle and are concerned with breading and early rearing of caves. The third stage in the beef production chain is the feedlot. Here, animals are fed an unnatural diet that causes extreme weight gain. Once of adequate size, animals enter stage four, the slaughterhouse. Each stage has a considerable environmental impact. My work will provide a critical analysis of the beef industry and empirically investigate the interrelationship among animal exploitation, racial and gender oppression, and environmental degradation.
  • Radhika Govindrajan

    Yale University, Anthropology

    Beautiful Beasts and Beastly Beauty: Human-Animal Relations in the Western Himalayas
    From pastoralism to hunting, domestication to wildlife conservation, human-animal relations have been an integral part of the historical development of relations between state, society, and nature in India’s western Himalayan region. My dissertation will analyze the cultural and political processes through which human-animal relations took shape in the context of colonial and postcolonial social and environmental change over the twentieth century. The project will unravel the intricate web of representations, practices and experiences that not only mediated these everyday relations, but also constituted the very categories of ‘human’ and ‘animal’ in India. I shall explore three specific themes. Firstly, I wish to examine how animal symbolism in folklore, religious beliefs, and kinship terminology shaped historical patterns of human-animal interactions. Secondly, I shall analyze how changing discourses and practices of hunting and wildlife conservation have transformed not only the ways in which people relate to non-human animals but also their access to animal resources. Thirdly, I will investigate how demographic changes influenced by commercial agriculture, state-led economic development, and the expansion of agrarian frontiers in colonial and postcolonial India have simultaneously created new lines of conflict between humans and animals as well as novel means for representing and managing them.
  • Anjali Clare Gupta

    University of California / Berkeley, Environmental Science, Policy and Management

    The Elephant Question: an ethnography of environmental imaginaries in Chobe Enclave Community Trust, Botswana
    My dissertation research will use a case study of environmental imaginaries in rural Botswana to explain how local visions of the environment and of human-wildlife relations play a role in the local politics of natural resource management. In Botswana, as in most parts of the world that still support populations of charismatic wildlife species, the introduction of Western neoliberal models of wildlife management has heightened struggles over control, access, ownership and benefits from these wild animals. Despite the name “community-based natural resource management” (CBNRM), these programs have been criticized for failing to incorporate local conceptions of appropriate environmental practice into their design. I propose to study the different ways community members in CBNRM villages in rural Botswana engage with wildlife—including CBNRM schemes’ influence on these interactions—and how these engagements shape and are shaped by local imaginaries for wildlife. By making visible the complexities of these material and metaphorical relationships, my research will contribute to a set of interdisciplinary bodies of literature, including recent political ecology, that aim to understand how nature politics is both materially and discursively constituted. My findings will also inform critical examinations of how CBNRM policies in Botswana might begin to take local human-wildlife relations into account. This ethnographic research will take place within the Chobe Enclave Community Trust, Botswana’s first CBNRM program.
  • Karen Linnell Hibbard-Rode Mager

    University of Alaska, Biology and Wildlife

    Identity and History of the Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd: Perspectives from Oral History and Landscape Genetics
    Caribou are an important subsistence resource, a key component of Arctic terrestrial ecosystems, and an increasingly powerful symbol of wildness in the debate over oil and gas development in the Arctic. My research will investigate the identity and history of caribou herds on the North Slope of Alaska, using methods from oral history and landscape genetics. Interviews with caribou hunters and reindeer herders, and genetic analysis of samples from caribou, will be analyzed. Through a parallel examination of scientific- and local traditional- knowledge of caribou identity, I will illuminate differences in the underlying assumptions on which knowledge is based and, potentially, how these two systems may inform one another. Bringing several sources of information to bear on this topic may allow me to construct a more complete knowledge of caribou history and identity than each source alone could produce. Determining the historical changes in herds and the genetic relationship between them may also provide insight into their capacity to adapt, or vulnerability, to oil and gas development in the region.
  • Casey R. Riffel

    University of Southern California, Critical Studies

    The Visual Rhetoric of Animality: Animating Animals from Eadweard Muybridge to Jim Trainor
    With his invention of the zoopraxiscope and subsequent photographic experiments, which first froze animal motion by executing a technological spectacle in order to decompose movement, Eadweard Muybridge ushered the animal into the era of its animation. Linking the animated animal to the urge to imbue images with movement, I pair animation’s challenge to the ontology of the cinematic image with the animal’s challenge to conceptions of humanity. Thus my dissertation will pursue three interrelated goals: tracing the history of animal imagery in animating practices; illuminating a medium-specific approach to the possibilities of animation; and explicating the entrapment of the animal image in a matrix of media culture anthropomorphism. Tracing diverse themes—including monstrosity, propaganda, iconicity, violence, drawing-from-life, technological spectacle, and racialized and sexualized performance—through diverse figures—from Muybridge to Winsor McCay to Walt Disney to Ladislas Starevich to Ralph Bakshi to Jim Trainor—I will explain animation’s pervasive engagement with animal imagery in terms of its unique capacity for the mobilization of a visual rhetoric of animality. The animal’s centrality to animation, and vice versa, is from this perspective crucial, their shared etymological root highlighting their intertwined role in cinema’s exploration of movement and form as fundamental ontological categories.
  • Aaron Shackelford

    University of North Carolina / Chapel Hill, English & Comparative Literature

    "I Think I Could Turn and Live Awhile With the Animals": The Writer's Struggle with Animals in America, 1850-1865
    By the middle of the nineteenth century, American authors confronted a growing uncertainty regarding the status of animals. Scientific research asked how closely related animals are to humans, whether animals feel pain or use language. Simultaneous to these investigations was the growth of racially charged taxonomies that sought to split humanity itself into hierarchical categories, further blurring distinctions between what it means to be human or animal. As a result, figurations of animals in literary texts began to raise important questions of representation, consciousness, and ethics, about the very meaning of what it means to identify oneself as human and something else as animal. This project, then, seeks to map out the ways this uncertain status of the animal manifests itself in the literature of antebellum America. I want to inquire into the ways in which writers struggle to do justice to these emergent concepts. The literary use of animals increasingly demanded a different approach to writing, and antebellum America offers a fascinating if at times confusing and contradictory time and place to study the literary tools writers use to make these discoveries and adjustments.
  • Ryan Noah Shapiro

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society

    Bodies at War: The Fight over Animal and Human Experimentation in Wartime America: 1916-1966
    From the sinking of the Lusitania to the launch of Sputnik II, American antivivisectionists and research advocates believed themselves at war with twin enemies; one abroad and another at home. Through war and peace, antivivisectionists and defenders of research alike consistently depicted themselves as partisans in a Manichean struggle over experimentation and America’s very survival. Each struggled for ownership of the rhetoric of national security in bids to metonymically and literally link their domestic opponents with foreign threats from the Kaiser to Stalin. This casting of the debate in martial terms significantly impacted the course of the conflict as well as the practice of medical research. My project seeks to explore this nexus of war and animal experimentation in the vivisection controversy in the United States from the First World War through the early Cold War, with particular emphasis on the roles played by gender, species, and nation in the martial renderings of the combatants. How were allegiance, masculinity, and menace constructed out of the beliefs and bodies of the men, women, and animals involved? How did the vivisection conflict manifest new visions of war and order in the laboratory and the home?
  • Analia Villagra

    City University of New York (CUNY) / Graduate Center, Anthropology

    Taxonomies of Nature: categories for an interspecies environmentalism
    Knowledge requires categories; humans necessarily classify the world in order to make sense of it. Drawing from the anthropology of science, kinship studies, and cultural primatology, my dissertation research will focus on the ways that different groups of people associated with the conservation of the Golden Lion Tamarin understand and categorize their place within the natural world, what I have called their “taxonomy of nature”. The Golden Lion Tamarin is a small monkey found only in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is variously viewed as the flagship species for the preservation of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest by conservationists and eco-tourists, a prestigious landmark for local landowners, and a potential rival by members of the Landless Workers Movement in need of property to farm. I intend to more thoroughly investigate the categories and taxonomies of nature that emerge among these diverse groups of people. On a biological reserve located about three hours outside of the city of Rio de Janeiro the fate of this tiny human cousin opens a larger debate about environmental justice, inter-species kinship, and how the boundaries we construct between “nature” and “culture” dictate the use of the land and the preservation of natural national heritage.
  • Sharon E. Wilcox

    University of Texas / Austin, Geography and the Environment

    Encountering El Tigre: Jaguars and People in the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands
    This project is concerned with jaguars and their conservation along the U.S./Mexico border. Exploring both the physical and symbolic meanings of “borderlands,” this study is not only physically located in a political border region, but is also concerned with the symbolic borderlands constructed between humans and animals. My research takes interest in the interrelationships between animals and peoples in this place, considering issues of agency, power, and access and how they alter and affect the lives of species, both human and feline, on the landscape. Utilizing conceptual debates regarding the “place” of animals from cross-disciplinary readings in the social sciences and humanities, this study offers a re-theorization of animals both within popular and academic conservation discourses. This project will interrogate representations of jaguars in order to locate the animals themselves, illustrating that the jaguar is at once removed from human sociality and yet bound to human social, economic, and political processes. Examining stakeholder participation in jaguar conservation efforts, I will explore the idea of considering and empowering the jaguar as a stakeholder itself. Ultimately, this study will consider the potential of this approach for enhancing the standing of animals themselves, bringing a new dimension of animal ethics to wildlife conservation.
  • Michael Wise

    University of Minnesota / Twin Cities, History

    “Living Like a Wolf”: Predation, Civilization, and Conquest on the Northern Plains, 1869-1924
    From Reconstruction through the 1920s, Anglo-American settlers on the Northern Plains viewed wolves as barometers of civilization’s outer boundaries. The animals’ presence and daily habits—dragging down game and livestock, feasting on bison carcasses, and howling at humanity with ambivalence—struck ire and hatred in the minds of modernizing settlers seeking to “civilize” the wild grasslands of Alberta, Montana, and Wyoming. While human predatory economies of bison hunting and stock growing transformed the plains, wolves harnessed these enterprises to their own ends. Feasting on cattle and skinned bison carrion, wolves ate and mated their way to unprecedented population levels, fueling a booming trade in their pelts—both for sale and for bounty. As wolves’ metabolisms reverberated into the human world and blurred the lines between animal and human production, the Northern Plain’s predators of body and mind preyed on civilization and its insecure discourses of race, gender, and class. Incapable of controlling the region’s animal ecology, these Americans and Canadians imagined wolves as symbols of their human vulnerability. By placing wolves at the center of my historical project, I plan to explore the relationships between colonialism, predation, conservation, and eugenics that branded the Northern Plain’s transnational and human-animal history.
  • Rebecca J. Woods

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society

    Breeding Environments: Livestock and Location in the Modern Anglophone World
    “Breeding Environments” explores the reciprocal relationships between livestock and the environments they live in and shape over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Focusing on British imperial and post-imperial expansion into North America, New Zealand, and Australia, this project examines the role of livestock breeding in the construction of climatic labels such as “temperate,” and how resulting understandings of climate and environment shaped nineteenth-century theories of heredity both before and after the acceptance of Darwinian evolution. “Breeding Environments” traces the interplay between livestock and place into the late twentieth century to explore rare breeds conservancy, an international movement that seeks to preserve, reestablish, and at times even recreate “historic” breeds of livestock. In this context, rare or heritage breeds—those whose numbers have declined due to the changing imperatives of the meat industry and revolutions in transportation—become, through their emblematic associations with particular times and places, a way to redeem an environment, or to preserve or recreate a past landscape.