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The human horse: equine husbandry, anthropomorphic hierarchies, and daily life in Lower Saxony, 1550-1735

By Amanda Eisemann

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This dissertation examines how human-animal relationships were formed through daily equine trade networks in early modern Germany. As reflections of human cultural values and experiences, these relationships had a significant impact in early modern Braunschweig-Lüneburg both on the practice of horse breeding and veterinary medicine and on the gendering of certain economic resources, activities, and trades. My study relies on archival and cultural sources ranging from the foundational documents of the Hannoverian stud farm in Celle, tax records, guild books, and livestock registers to select pieces of popular and guild art, farrier guides, and farmers’ almanacs. By combining traditional social and economic sources with those that offer insight on daily life, this dissertation is able to show that in early modern Germany, men involved with equine husbandry and horse breeding relied on their economic relationship with horses' bodies as a means to construct distinct trade and masculine identities. Horses also served as social projections of their owners’ bodies and their owners’ culture, representing a unique code of masculinity that connected and divided individuals between social orders. Male identities, in particular, were molded and maintained through the manner of an individual’s contact with equestrian trade and through the public demonstration of proper recognition of equine value. My study ultimately demonstrates that early modern tradesmen each possessed a number of overlapping cultural identities, which together influenced the direction of state policy and popular economic practices in eighteenth century Braunschweig-Lüneburg. A product and a motor for reconstruction after the Thirty Years War, farmers bred and took care of the bulk of the German horse population on a daily basis throughout the early modern period. Farmers developed a new socioeconomic identity as tradesmen-farmers, which depended on emphasizing male farmers’ usage of horses over the much more common, widespread, and traditional usage of oxen in agriculture. This newly developing male trade identity did not recognize a corresponding female trade identity beyond her non-trade specific social rank as wife and general help-mate. While medieval agrarian ideals celebrated German peasant couples working the land together and fulfilling their feudal obligations in joint labor, agrarian ideals of the late seventeenth century came to emphasize the agricultural knowledge and skillsets of male farmers in order to leverage and elevate farmers’ social status and reputation as agrarian tradesmen. Mediations both inside and outside of smith guilds between large-smith guildsmen and veterinary practitioners created a wide field of trade-associated titles and social hierarchies, each of which with its own implied set of trade knowledges and skills. The chapters of this dissertation demonstrate that like German farmers, large-smiths, hoof-smiths, and horse doctors had also begun to utilize horses’ bodies as cultural capital by the end of the seventeenth century. Yet, their use of horses to construct trade and masculine identities operated along different economic networks and toward different social purposes than farmers. Although servicing both the general iron-smithing and healthcare needs of humans and cattle prior to the Thirty Years War, it was during the period of economic and social reconstruction during the mid-seventeenth century that German large-smiths across the Lüneburg heath began to place a new emphasis on equine medicine and other equine-centric skillsets as iconic smith trade abilities. Independent and guild-based masters also employed equine-related trade skills as a means through which to expand their personal reputation and social status along with improving their economic prospects through guild hierarchies and marriage.


Mason N McLary

HABRI Central

Date 2012
Pages 340
Publisher University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Location of Publication Champaign, IL
Department History
Degree History
URL http://hdl.handle.net/2142/30893
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Animals in culture
  3. Breeding
  4. Culture
  5. Employees
  6. Farms
  7. Horses
  8. Human-animal studies
  9. Mammals
  10. Masculinity
  11. Veterinary profession