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On Thursday 30 November 2017 from 1 p.m to 4 p.m., the Wilson Institute for Canadian History and Tracy McDonald (Department of History, McMaster) are hosting an Afternoon of Animal Studies. This afternoon gathering is the first of what we hope to be more Animal Studies events at McMaster that will cross departments and disciplines. We hope to gauge the degree to which our colleagues at McMaster and beyond are interested in the world of Animal Studies. With that agenda in mind, we have invited six scholars with a wide range of interests to talk to us about their particular focus of scholarly engagement with animals. Rather than a large, formal event, this event is an open and more casual afternoon. We encourage anyone in the academic community and the community at large who has an interest in Animal Studies to join us for our first discussion.

This conference is funded by the Wilson Institute for Canadian History and Dr. Tracy McDonald’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant.


Our presenters are:

Daniel Bender, Canada Research Chair in Cultural History and Analysis, Department of History, University of Toronto-Scarborough.

“Aping: Race, Vaudeville, and the Performing American Chimp, 1900-1980”

Between 1900 and 1980, performing chimpanzees were some of the most popular performing acts, first on vaudeville stages and later in American zoos. This paper examines how the racial humour of the vaudeville stage made its way into the zoo. It also examines the way chimpanzee resistance transformed the meanings and nature of animal shows.

Joanna Dean, Associate Professor, Department of History, Carleton University

“Why Some Animals, and Not Others?”

Joanna Dean considers our choice of historical subjects. How does proximity (dogs, horses), sentience (chimps, whales) or exoticism (elephants, electric eels) influence our decision to focus on some non-human animals and not others? And how has this changed with the emergence of animal history as a field?

Jessica Eisen, S.J.D. Candidate, Harvard Law School. Osgoode Hall Law School Institute for Feminist Legal Studies, Visiting Researcher, 2017-2018

“Animals in the Constitutional State”

Jessica Eisen looks at the emergence of constitutional provisions that protect the interests of individual animals in a number of jurisdictions around the world–and the challenges that these developments pose for traditional constitutional theories based on the rights and dignity of human persons. She discusses the concept of “radical vulnerability” as an alternative approach to conceiving of constitutional states’ obligations to protect animals.

Karen Houle, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Guelph

“Non-human ethics”

Karen Houle focuses on recent trends in Western Ethical Theory and discusses the development of “non-human ethics” including ethics that may apply to insects and plants and is informed by history, philosophy, and theology.

Projit Mukharji, Associate Professor, Department of History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

“The Zebra’s Stripes, the Leopard’s Spots: Darwinism in Colonial Lucknow”

Projit Mukharji looks science in Victorian India and the whole science of evolution of coloration. His presentation focuses on the zoological research of Emanuel Bonavia, a Maltese zoologist working in India who was one of Charles Darwin’s main correspondents there. Bonavia was interested in why and how animals evolved their coloration.

Susan Nance, Professor, Department of History, University of Guelph

“What Happens to Animals Happens to People: Making Animal History’s Insights Foundational to Survey Courses and Syntheses ”

Susan Nance looks at how animal history can become more central to the historical discipline in general. Ideally, animal history’s insights would be foundational to survey course textbooks and other synthetic works on US or Canadian history — but how do we get there?


Our afternoon will consist of two panels. All panels will take place at L.R. Wilson Hall’s Community Room (LRW 1003).

Panel 1 – 1 to 2:15

Daniel Bender
Projit Mukharji
Susan Nance

Facilitator: Leeanne Romane

Coffee Break: 2:15-2:45

Panel 2 – 2:45-4

Joanna Dean
Jessica Eisen
Karen Houle

Facilitator:  Tracy McDonald