UW-Madison Center for the Humanities

Center for the Humanities

Past Faculty Development Seminars
Fall 2014: Representing Animals

Fall 2014: Representing Animals: Philosophy, History, Film

Led by Mario Ortiz-Robles, Associate Professor, Department of English

See here for information about participating in the seminar. Applications are due on Monday, July 28, 2014.

Seminar Description

Scientific, artistic, political, and philosophical descriptions of animals have accompanied human history from its beginnings, but it is only relatively recently that these various ways of representing animals have been troubled by the question of animal representativeness; that is, the rights of animals. Animal Studies, a vibrant new field of interdisciplinary inquiry across the humanities, the sciences, and the social sciences can be said to be located at the point at which these two seemingly incompatible ways of representing animals intersect.

In this seminar, we will be guided by two interrelated questions that lie at the heart of this new discipline: 1) “What is an animal?” and 2) “How should animals be treated?” We know an animal when we see one, but we are hard pressed to account for the fact that the word “animal” stands in for an enormous variety of living beings all of which are as different from one another as we supposedly are from every one of them. Even so, when we use one single term to name all non-human animals we arrogate to ourselves the right to determine their fate. From the traditional use of animals in sacrifice and ritual, hunting and fishing, transport and labor, the development, over the last two centuries, of biological forms of knowledge has permitted the technological exploitation of the animal at an unprecedented scale. Animals have become objects of human manipulation in factory farms and pharmaceutical laboratories, but have also become the subject of a broad range of cultural representations, including zoos, circuses, natural history museums, Broadway musicals, television shows, and animal films. By pairing philosophical and historical readings with documentary films, this seminar will allow us to address these key questions as well as consider more generally the aesthetic, intellectual, ethical, and political implications of our inevitable anthropocentrism.


Week 1: The Concept of the Animal
John Berger, “Why Look at Animals?” (1980) [25 pp]
J.M. Coetzee, “The Poets and the Animals” (1997) [22 pp]
Werner Herzog, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010) [film] 90 mins.

Week 2: Animal Philosophy
Derrida, “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” (2002) [49 pp]
Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man (2005) [film] 103 mins.
Week 3: Animal Rights
Peter Singer, “All Animals Are Equal” (1975) [23pp]
Martha Nussbaum, “Beyond ‘Compassion and Humanity’” (2004) [21 pp]
Louie Psihoyos, The Cove (2009) [film] 92 mins.

Week 4: Anthropomorphism
Mary Midgely, “What is Anthropomorphism?” (1983) [12 pp]
Giorgio Agamben, The Open (2003) [Excerpts] [34 pp]
Barbet Schroeder, Koko, A Talking Gorilla (1978) [film] 85 mins.
Week 5: Pets
James Serpell, In the Company of Animals (1996) [Excerpts] [35 pp]
Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (2008) [Excerpts] [22 pp]
Errol Morris, Gates of Heaven (1978) [film] 85 mins.

Week 6: Animal Labor
Harriet Ritvo, The Animal Estate (1987) [Excerpts] [42pp]  
Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Sweetgrass (2009) [film] 101 mins.

Week 7: Experimenting with Animals
Anita Guerrini, Experimenting with Humans and Animals (2003) [Excerpts] [58 pp]
Frederick Wiseman, Primate (1974) [film] 105 mins.

Week 8: Eating Animals
Noelie Vialles, Animal to Edible (1996) [Excerpts] [36 pp]
Cora Diamond, “Eating Meat and Eating People” [1978) [15 pp]
Georges Franju, Le Sang des bêtes (1949) [film] 20 mins.

Week 9: Performing Animals
Nigel Rothfels, Savages and Beasts (2008) [Excerpts] [62 pp]
Gabriella Cowperwaithe, Blackfish (2013) [film] 83 mins.

Week 10: Animal Politics
Cary Wolfe, Before the Law (2013) [Excerpts] [57 pp]
Ulrich Seidl, Animal Love (1995) [film] 120 mins.

See here for information about participating in the seminar. Applications are due on Monday, July 28, 2014.