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Representing Animals: Philosophy, History, Film

September 2, 2014 @ 12:00 am - December 20, 2014 @ 12:00 am

Fall 2014 Faculty Development Seminar:

Mario Ortiz-Robles

English, UW-Madison


Scientific, artistic, political, and philosophical descriptions of animals have accompanied human history from its beginnings, but it is only relatively recently that these various ways of representing animals have been troubled by the question of animal representativeness; that is, the rights of animals. Animal Studies, a vibrant new field of interdisciplinary inquiry across the humanities, the sciences, and the social sciences can be said to be located at the point at which these two seemingly incompatible ways of representing animals intersect.

In this seminar, we will be guided by two interrelated questions that lie at the heart of this new discipline: 1) “What is an animal?” and 2) “How should animals be treated?” We know an animal when we see one, but we are hard-pressed to account for the fact that the word “animal” stands in for an enormous variety of living beings all of which are as different from one another as we supposedly are from every one of them. Even so, when we use one single term to name all non-human animals we arrogate to ourselves the right to determine their fate. From the traditional use of animals in sacrifice and ritual, hunting and fishing, transport and labor, the development, over the last two centuries, of biological forms of knowledge has permitted the technological exploitation of the animal at an unprecedented scale. Animals have become objects of human manipulation in factory farms and pharmaceutical laboratories, but have also become the subject of a broad range of cultural representations, including zoos, circuses, natural history museums, Broadway musicals, television shows, and animal films. By pairing philosophical and historical readings with documentary films, this seminar will allow us to address these key questions as well as consider more generally the aesthetic, intellectual, ethical, and political implications of our inevitable anthropocentrism.


Programmed by the Center for the Humanities and Institute for Research in the Humanities (with major support from the Office of the Dean of the College of Letters & Science), the Faculty Development Seminars in the Humanities enabled an individual tenured faculty member or a team of two tenured faculty members to lead a seminar on a topic of broad interest across the humanities. The seminar leaders received a course release for directing a seminar of other faculty members who met ten times during a semester in two-hour sessions.


September 2, 2014 @ 12:00 am
December 20, 2014 @ 12:00 am
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States