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Bibliographic Essay: The History of Human-Animal Relations

By J. Wendel Cox

Category Journal Articles

Animals are everywhere. Whether as pets, pests, sources of food, fuel, or materials for manufacture, means of traction or source of motive power, or objects of veneration and fear and wonder, animals have been our counterparts throughout human history. In recent years, a historical literature has developed about animals and our relationships with them, part of a larger “animal turn” in the humanities. Scholars and students alike are often surprised, enchanted, and intrigued by historical perspectives on what heretofore has struck us as natural and timeless circumstances. This essay describes a small selection of a challenging, accessible, and provocative scholarship with implications for the study of race, class, gender, and sexuality, the environment and humanity's relationships with life on Earth, and the nature of the human experience. While some works originate in disciplines such as philosophy, cognitive studies, and ethology, most arise from a recognizable historical tradition. Specifically, the essay addresses human-animal relations of the early modern and modern eras in Western Europe and North America and provides a brief orientation to the scholarship of last three decades. With roots in several areas of inquiry, including the historical study of the natural world, moral philosophy and its connection with animal advocacy, and the scientific exploration of animal behavior and cognition, this literature likely will continue to grow well into our shared future. Early studies were concerned with the conception and representation of animality as a mirror and maker of humanity, rationality, and nature throughout the early modern and modern eras. More recently, scholars have explored a variety of subjects including hunting, the keeping of pets, urbanization and its implications for animals, and the very meaning of "human" in a "posthuman” era.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Publication Title Choice
Volume 54
Issue 12
Language English
Additional Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal roles
  2. Human-animal relationships
  3. open access
  1. open access