The Animal/Human Boundary: Historical Perspectives

The Animal/Human Boundary: Historical Perspectives

Edited by Angela N. H. Creager, William Chester Jordan


University of Rochester Press



An examination of the difficulties in fundamentally differentiating humans from all other animals.
The way in which humans articulate identities, social hierarchies, and their inversions through relations with animals has been a fruitful topic in anthropological and historical investigations for the last several years. The contributors to this volume call attention to the symbolic meanings of animals, from the casting of first-year students as goats in medieval universities to the representation of vermin as greedy thieves in early modern England. But the essays in this volume are also concerned with the more material and bodily aspects of animal-human relations, like eating regulations, aggression, and transplanting of animal organs into human beings [xenotransplantation].
Modern biologists have increasingly problematized the human-animal boundary. Researchers have challenged the supposedly unique ability of humans to use language. Chimpanzees and gorillas, it has been argued, have learned to communicate using American Sign Language. In addition, some scientists regard the sophistication of modes of communication in species like dolphins and songbirds as undermining the view of humans as uniquely capable of complex expressions. As studies of nonhuman primates threaten to compromise the long-held assumption that only humans possess self-awareness. The question becomes: How can one firmly differentiate human beings from other animals?

Contributors include Piers Beirne, Richard W. Burkhardt, Jr., Mary E. Fissell, Paul H. Freedman, Ruth Mazo Karras, Susan E. Lederer, Rob Meens, John H. Murrin, James A. Serpell, and H. Peter Steeves.

Angela N. H. Creager and William Chester Jordan are Associates of the Shelby Cullom Davis Center for Historical Studies, Princeton University.


December 2002
25 black and white illustrations
360 pages
9x6 in
Studies in Comparative History
ISBN: 9781580461207
Format: Hardback
University of Rochester Press
BISAC SOC002000, SOC041000
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Table of Contents

Eating Animals in the Early Middle Ages: Classifying the Animal World and Building Group Ideentities Rob MeensRob Meens
The Representation of Medieval Peasants as Bestial and as Human Paul Freedman
Separating the Men from the Goats: Masculinity, Civilization, and Identity Formation in the Medieval University Ruth Mazo KarrasRuth Mazo Karras
Imagining Vermin in Early Modern England Mary E. Fissell
"Things Fearful to Name": Bestiality in Early America John M. Murrin
Guardian Spirits or Demonic Pets: The Concept of the Witch's Familiar in Early Modern England, 1530-1712. James A. SerpellJames A. Serpell
On the Sexual Assault of Animals: A Sociological View Piers Beirne
The Familiar Other and Feral Selves: Life at the Human/Animal Boundary H. Peter SteevesH. Peter Steeves
The Founders of Ethology and the Problem of Human Aggression: A Study in Ethology's Ecologies Richard W. Burkhardt Jr.Richard W. Burkhardt Jr.
Animal Parts/Human Bodies: Organic Transplantation in Early Twentieth-Century America Susan E. LedererSusan E. Lederer


The Animal/Human Boundary will stand as a model for how research from different historical perspectives can be brought together in a coherent, valuable whole. ANTHROZOOS, 2004

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