Study Guide

Animal Studies Timeline

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How It All Went Down

350 B.C.: The History of Animals

Aristotle got a book contract for his multi-volume study of organisms and their organization.

234–c. 305: On Abstinence from Animal Food

The Neo-Platonist philosopher Porphyry publishes an early vegetarian treatise and dreams of fried tofu with garlic. Mmm.

1639: Meditations on First Philosophy

Rene Descartes publishes his philosophy of animals—they're mere machines, according to R.D.

1789: An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham publishes his argument that what matters is not whether animals can think but if can they feel. This distinction—between thought and feeling—and Bentham's attempt to flip the terms of the debate on Descartes reverberates in animal studies debates even today. Can you feel it?

1859: The Origin of Species

Charles Darwin publishes his first book on evolution—those animal machines are our cousins!

1875: Founding of the Victoria Street Society

A society founded by animal welfarists to argue against the use of animals in scientific experiments—the founders included many early feminists in Britain, including Frances Power Cobbe. Power to the People (and to the Critters)!

1975: Animal Liberation

In 1975 Peter Singer publishes his famous, utilitarian argument for "liberating" animals: that we as a society should not use for them clothes, food, etc. The text was seen by many as the beginning of a new, popular animal rights movement. Pass the Tofurkey, please.

1980: "Why Look at Animals?"

John Berger publishes his super-important essay in his book About Looking. It is an early example of a thinker asking critical questions about how we look at animals (bet you figured that one out!) and the animal gaze in art, literature, and real life.

1990: The Sexual Politics of Meat

Carol Adams publishes her groundbreaking book linking depictions of female and animal bodies, bringing a feminist critique to questions of animals. Turns out that that advertisement featuring a lady wrapped in bacon is pretty messed up! An (in)famous PETA ad featuring a Baywatch-era Pam Anderson highlighted this: we objectify both animals and women.

1997: The Animal that Therefore I Am

Jacques Derrida feels self-conscious standing naked in front of his cat and then gives a series of lectures that begin with that experience. Cats always do give pretty judgy looks, don't they? In the book he declares that deconstruction has always had animals and animality at its center—and no, he's not just talking about butchers "deconstructing" animals.

1997: The Lives of Animals

South-African novelist, Nobel Prize Winner J.M. Coetzee (and loud n' proud veggie) is invited to give a lecture at Princeton University. Instead of giving a straightforward essay like a normal person, he wrote and read this short novella to the crowd like a genius—distancing himself from the arguments his authorial stand-in, Elizabeth Costello, makes regarding our use of animals.

2003: The Companion Species Manifesto

Donna Haraway publishes her short pamphlet, in part responding to feminists who argue that we should never put animals to any use. Haraway's dog and the star of the book, Cayenne Pepper (d'awww, what a good name), becomes a theory celebrity overnight and threatens to find another companion theorist if her royalties are not paid in full.

2011: ASLE Conference: Species, Space, and the Imagination of the Global

Massive literature and environment conference (literature nerds talking about nature and animals, a.k.a. our dream vacation) held at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. Panels on animals and animal studies were numerous and very present, and we bet there was a rockin' vegetarian spread. Keynote speakers included animal behaviorist Marc Bekoff.

2012: Minding Animals Conference, Utrecht

Oh, wait: this is our dream vacay. A large, international conference of animal studies scholars. Minding Animals International is an organization, like ASLE, that is attempting to harness and channel burgeoning interest in the animal studies field (which is way easier than herding cats).

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