Animal Remains, 29-30 April 2019
Humanities Research Institute, The University of Sheffield
Lucinda Cole, The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Thom van Dooren, The University of Sydney, Australia
Artist in Residence:
Steve Baker, The University of Central Lancashire, UK
Animal remains are everywhere. From the cryogenically-preserved DNA of the extinct Po’ouli bird held in storage at the Frozen Zoo to the ivory tusks of African elephants that flood the market of the illegal wildlife trade, animal bodies have been fashioned into commodities, fetishized visual objects, colonial artifacts, meat, carrion, taxidermic trophies, and biotechnological innovations. Decomposed organic compounds that were once ancient animal and vegetable remains are also converted into fuel and an array of petro-products, while dinosaurs and other prehistoric species make frequent appearances in recent science fiction films like Jurassic World.
The fossil in particular has emerged as contested theoretical terrain, as Elizabeth Povinelli suggests in her critique of settler late liberalism (Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism). The fossil is regarded as the “endpoint” of the biological image in W.J.T. Mitchell’s Image Science, and as the threshold that marks the crossover of living things into the “world of rocks” (Manuel DeLanda). Meanwhile, for speculative realists like Timothy Morton, it is a “hyperobject” characterized by its “sensuous connectivity” and withdrawal from humans (Hyperobjects). As Elizabeth Kolbert points out in The Sixth Extinction, the fossil has only relatively recently afforded animals a history, because prior to the seventeenth century, the “category of extinction didn’t exist.” In studies of the Anthropocene, the fossil gestures to the geological as well as the “intersecting biological and chemical” transformations that “intermesh human and natural histories,” according to Stacy Alaimo (“Your Shell on Acid”). Indeed, the fossil — and animal remains more broadly conceived — hover at the periphery of a number of critical inquiries across the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences, but have yet to receive sustained and thoughtful engagement.
Building on these emerging developments, this international and cross-disciplinary conference will examine the material histories and futures of animal remains. In which ways, and to what effect, are animal remains figured in narratological frameworks (David Herman, Susan McHugh)? Can animal remains incite us to imagine extinction (Ursula Heise, Thom Van Dooren), and if so, how? What are the material, affective, philosophical, ecological, and biological afterlives of dead animals (Rachel Poliquin, Samuel J.M.M. Alberti)? With the sixth mass extinction underway, how do we apprehend the sheer scale and scope of animal remains, given the hyper-visibility of some, and the invisibility of others? What are the political and ethical stakes involved in our treatment of animal remains? This conference invites a broad exploration of these kinds of questions. Possible topics or sub-fields include petrocultures, zooarchaeology, dinosaur iconology, zoological gardens, museological/memory studies, cryptozoology, wildlife conservation, de-extinction movements, bio-/cryopolitics, neo-vitalist philosophy, ecologies of putrefaction (see Lucinda Cole), spatial geographies of rot (see Jamie Lorimer), new materialisms (inclusive of what Kim Tallbear calls “an indigenous metaphysic”), decolonizing animals, animal remains and art, extinction studies, and beyond.
ShARC hosted a fantastic talk by Diane Morgan (University of Leeds), who deliverted a paper entitled, ‘If only Immanuel Kant had had a dog!’.
Generally philosophers have not been good on animals. Immanuel Kant is no exception to the rule, which is maybe disappointing. In Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, Elizabeth Costello says that she for one “expected better” from him. Why? In what ways does his limited reading of human/animal relations betray potentialities inscribed within his own philosophical project? What avenues of thought might have been opened up by a more adventurous exploration of the nature and capacities of nonhuman animals?
In case the very sight of the name KANT puts you right off, I hasten to reassure you that this paper does not intend to focus solely on his philosophy. It is not just interested in “proving” that he could have thought differently about what we call “animals” (maybe with the aim of ultimately “saving” him? Who cares apart from me and a few others?!) It also wishes to ask a wider question, namely: given our investment in the dynamically interdisciplinary field of “Animal Studies” with its most needed engagement with environment issues, what meaning can historic texts have for us now if they necessarily did not face the same ecological urgency as us? If we grant the absolute centrality of the pressing topic of climate change for us today, what can they possibly say to us about who we are, or should be, in relation to others and where we are heading?
ShARC were delighted to host Laura D. Gelfand (Fulbright Research Fellow 2018-19, Department of the History of Art, University of York / Professor of Art History, Utah State University) for a talk entitled ‘From she-wolf to hoary heathstepper and beyond: Inventing and representing the big bad wolf.’
In Scotland, plans for the controlled release of wolves into a fenced-off private estate still face strong resistance, while in the U.S., the Trump administration is attempting to strip protections from endangered grey wolves to facilitate trophy hunting. Today’s antipathy toward wolves has a long history, but the animal hasn’t always been hated. Many ancient cultures both feared and admired the wolf, associating it with their most important deities. However, by the Early Middle Ages the wolf was transformed into a palimpsest onto which a dense network of terrifying signs was inscribed. Anglo-Saxon poems describe the wolf as a hoary heathstepper, a monstrous creature embodying the worst aspects of humankind, and exiled outlaws were condemned to bear a wolf’s-head (caput lupinum), indicating that both man and beast could be killed on sight. Analysing medieval and Early Modern visual and textual representations, this paper explores how, when, and why the wolf has been demonized so effectively.
ShARC Tales, 8-9 November 2018
The inaugural ShARC Tales Workshop was a two-day programme that took place at the Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield, on Thursday 8th and Friday 9th November 2018.
The programme included a public keynote from Professor of Political Science and Asian American Studies at University of California, Irvine, Claire Jean Kim (author of the award-winning book, Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age) and a special roundtable presentation from Siobhan O’Sullivan, Visiting Fellow at ShARC and Senior Lecturer in Political Science at The University of New South Wales.
The aim of the workshop was to foster a stronger core network of animal studies students and researchers at The University of Sheffield that allows for interdisciplinary collaborations and a cross-pollination of ideas between faculties and departments.
The event was organised by ShARC and supported by the BIOSEC Project.
ShARC were delighted to hear a talk by Dr Helen Cowie (History, University of York), ‘Doing a Roaring Trade’: Lion Taming in Nineteenth-Century Britain:
In January 1850, tragedy struck at Wombwell’s menagerie when the female lion tamer, Ellen Bright was killed by a tiger at Chatham in Kent. Ellen, who was only seventeen, had been performing in a cage with a lion and a tiger. She was coming to the end of her act when the tiger pounced on her, ‘seizing her furiously by the neck’ and sinking its teeth into her throat. Though two surgeons tried to revive the stricken woman, her injuries proved fatal, and she died at the scene. One of the surgeons stated that she had suffered ‘a very large wound under the chin, which, aided by the shock her system had sustained, produced death’.
The violent end of Ellen Bright received widespread coverage in the contemporary press and generated a national outcry against the use of female tamers in menageries. Popularly known as ‘Lion Queens’, female performers had become fashionable in contemporary animal shows, titillating the public with daring feats and risqué costumes. They attracted large audiences, but also sharp criticism from certain sectors of the press, which condemned lion taming as a reckless and voyeuristic pursuit.
Focusing on Ellen and three other famous lion tamers, this paper examines the evolution of wild animal acts in 19th-century Britain and assesses their wider social significance. Why did people go to watch lion taming performances? What were the emotional dynamics of the wild beast act, and did female and non-European lion tamers challenge or perpetuate existing stereotypes of women and colonial subjects in Victorian culture? I situate Ellen’s untimely death within a wider debate about wild beast performances, which were viewed by some contemporaries as sensational, morally suspect, and potentially exploitative of both humans and animals.
We were delighted to welcome the University of Sydney’s Dinesh Wadiwel to Sheffield to deliver a talk on ‘Pro-Animal Politics – Do We Need a Concept of Ideology?’
The seminar tok place at 10am on Thursday, 2nd February 2017 in Art Tower, Room AT-LT05.
An abstract of the talk can be found here.
Reading Group: Dinesh Wadiwel’s The War Against Animals.
In The War Against Animals, Dinesh Wadiwel draws on critical political theory to provide a provocative account of how our mainstay relationships with animals are founded upon systemic hostility and bio-political sovereign violence.
Jill Atkins, ‘Building an ark of emancipatory extinction prevention mechanisms of accounting and accountability’
Tuesday 29th November, 3pm. Diamond Building, DIA-WR1
Read the abstract here.
Conferences – Autumn 2016
British Animal Studies Network presents:
18th and 19th November 2016
Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield
Rosaleen Duffy (University of Sheffield); David Farrier (University of Edinburgh); Helen Tiffin (University of Wollongong)
Research Seminar series – Autumn 2016
Sune Borkfelt, ‘Sensing the Animal in Slaughterhouse Fictions’ Tuesday 15th November, 3pm. Firth Court, Room F02a
Read the abstract here.
Susan McHugh, ‘Honeybee Fictions and Indigenous Frictions’, Tuesday October 18th, 3pm. Hicks Building, Seminar Room F30
Audio available to listen to online here.
Research Seminar series – Spring 2016
Research Seminar series – Spring 2014-15
An archived program of our Spring 2014-15 seminar series can be found here.
16th March, 5.15-6.30pm. Richard Roberts Building, B79.
Tom Tyler (Philosophy & Cultural Studies, Oxford Brookes)
“Being Prey: Endless Runner”
Jointly hosted by Sheffield Centre for Visual Studies and Videogames Reading Group
1st April, 4-5.30pm, Jessop West, Seminar Room 8
Rosaleen Duffy (Politics, SOAS) and Siobhan O’Sullivan (Politics, UNSW)
Rosaleen Duffy, “Responsibility to protect? Ecocide, interventionism and saving biodiversity”
Siobhan O’Sullivan, “Who’s looking at what? The politics and ethics of drones in animal activism”
15th April, 5.30-6.30pm, Humanities Research Institute (HRI)
Megan Cavell (Medieval Studies, Durham University)
“The Habits and Habitats of Old English Riddle-Animals”
Jointly hosted by Sheffield Medieval and Ancient Research Seminar
29th April, 5.15-6.30pm, Richard Roberts Building, B79
Naomi Sykes (Zooarchaeology, University of Nottingham)
“Human-animal studies in archaeology: views from the past, perspectives on the present”
5th May Day symposium, Jessop West Exhibition Space
Umberto Albarella (Zooarchaeology, Sheffield) and Angelos Hadjikoumis
“Humans, livestock and their landscape: past, present and future”
6th May, 4.30-5.30pm, Richard Roberts Building, A87
David Herman (Literature, Durham University)
“Storytelling beyond the Human: Modelling Animal Experiences in Narrative Worlds”
Jointly hosted with School of English Research Seminar
20th May, 4.30-5.30pm, Humanities Research Institute (HRI) seminar rooms
Lourdes Orozco (Theatre & Performance, University of Leeds)
“Thinking about the Posthuman Actor: Animals in Performance Practices”
Jointly hosted with School of English Research Seminar
Reading and Discussion Group – Spring 2014-15
An archive of our 2014-15 reading group is online here.
A major international English Studies conference focused on literary animal studies, Reading Animals took place at the University of Sheffield on 17th – 20th July, 2014.
Keynote speakers at the conference were Tom Tyler, Erica Fudge, Laura Brown, Kevin Hutchings, Diana Donald, Cary Wolfe, and Susan McHugh.
An archive of the conference program and abstracts is available here: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/english/animal/readinganimals
Click here for a Storify archive of tweets from the conference.
Animal Machines: Animals and/as Technologies
Hosted at the University of Sheffield on 18th October, 2013, Animal Machines was a one-day interdisciplinary symposium to examine the interrelations of animals and technology, featuring contributions from literature, film, the social sciences, and information studies.
The pervasive association of animality and technicity is not only an ontological question but also structures various material and representational practices. Western philosophy has long struggled with this relation, particularly in the aftermath of Descartes’ famous assertion of the mechanistic essence of animality. The ethical and political dimensions of these ontological questions are brought into focus in concrete ways through the lived experience of both humans and nonhuman animals in their everyday embodied interaction with technologies.
Anat Pick, Seán McCorry, Fabienne Collignon, Clara Mancini, Richard Twine, Robert McKay, John Miller, Matthew Cole, Emily Thew.
An archive of the symposium is available here.
The Animal Gaze Returned
The Animal Gaze returned was a major exhibition of contemporary animal-themed artworks, hosted at the Sheffield Institute of Arts Gallery, Sheffield Hallam University, 2nd August – 2nd September, 2013.
You can view the photostream of the “The Animal Gaze Returned” exhibition here.
When you are caught in The Animal Gaze Returned, you will find that the fascination of animal worlds poses conceptual and ethical challenges to human priorities. Artists in this exhibition question the way humans look at animals, how animals return that look, and how this shapes human interactions with them; how people connect, and often don’t connect, with other beings.
In The Animal Gaze Returned, contemporary artists extend and complicate traditions in Fine Art by representing animals as more than objects of decoration or status. They use strategies that usurp conventions of anthropomorphic symbolism to recognize that animals’ visual presence – and ability to look – shape and are shaped by a wide variety of media, from painting, video and photography to sculpture and performance.
Suky Best, Olivier Richon, Andrea Roe, Bob and Roberta Smith, Rosemarie McGoldrick, Darren Harvey-Regan, Steve Baker, Lucy Powell, Snæbjörnsdóttir/Wilson, Ian Brown, Aurelia Mihai, Greta Alfaro, Cartwright & Jordan, Kathy High and Edwina Ashton.
Information on the artists and their work.
Chloë Brown, artist, senior lecturer in Fine Art at Sheffield Hallam University,
Rosie McGoldrick, artist, senior lecturer in Fine Art at The CASS, London Metropolitan University and Dr. Robert McKay, writer and lecturer in English Literature at University of Sheffield.
An Animal Space
The exhibition An Animal Space took place in the Jessop West Building foyer at University of Sheffield from 2 August to 30 August. It displayed the early results of an ongoing collaboration between Chloë Brown and Robert McKay (curators of The Animal Gaze Returned), which brings the methods of contemporary art practice and literary criticism into conversation to reflect on human fascination by and use of other animals.
The exhibition combined sculpture, drawing and text and explores the connections, real and imaginary, between the photographic, material and textual traces of those animals who undertook early space flights, and the representation of such animals in postwar literary fiction. The works respond with empathy and playfulness to this history of dogs, spiders, mice and monkeys as astronauts (animalnauts?) and leave the viewer wondering — what flights of imagination are necessary to truly encounter animals in space? Also displayed as part of the exhibition, An Illustrated Theriography comprises high quality reproductions of jacket designs, illustrative quotations and exploratory annotations; it offers a visual record of the animal worlds presented in some of the most unusual and imaginative postwar literature.
A photostream archive of the exhibition is online here.