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The University Seminar on Human-Animal Studies is open to faculty and professional membership in the field of Human-Animal Studies. Vibrant new scholarship is emerging in this area of work.  The field’s focus is on how humans and (other) animals have interacted across cultures and histories: how the protein, work, and products derived from animals have contributed to human projects; how cross-species relationships have shaped human histories; and how animals’ imaginative and aesthetic roles in cultures are connected to the living presence of animals. Work in this field tends to be interdisciplinary, drawing on the social sciences and the humanities as well as on the already interdisciplinary fields of environmental and posthumanist studies.

Professor Brian Boyd

Professor Naama Harel

Fern Thompsett

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

11/18/2019 Scheps Library, Room 457 Schermerhorn Extension
6:00 PM
Farm to Pharmacy: Animals, Nutrition and Governance in Britain 1870 - 1945
Alma Igra, Columbia University

02/11/2020 Scheps Library, Room 457 Schermerhorn Extension
6:00 PM
The Moth
Rachel Mundy, Rutgers University


In thirteenth-century Persia, the poet Sa'di contrasted the concupiscent ignorance of the singing bird with the silent death of the moth, whose voiceless immolation was the mark of unspeakable knowledge. Seven hundred years later and far from Sa'di's sources, the moth is still a symbol of death and that which makes a completed life of value. In this paper, I ask what it means for an individual life to matter by turning to the paradigm of sound and silence presented by Sa'di and developed in the writings of American lepidopterists of the mid-twentieth century.

Today's conversations about nature are framed by increasingly urgent questions of survival. Who and what can survive climate change? How can we preserve and protect endangered lives in a postindustrial present? Contrary to these conversations about survival, the moth was associated by specialists with poetry, death, and passion. I draw on interconnected histories of lepidopterology--the study of moths and butterflies--and opera, from whose characters lepidopterists borrowed the names of many moths, to explore the complex and often problematic ethics that moths, musicians, and scientists created to understand what it means for a life to matter. In asking what it means to die well, I hope to make possible a broader set of questions about the ways that death, power, and human values have shaped the conditions through which we understand today's problems of environmental crisis and species extinction.

Scheps Library, Room 457 Schermerhorn Extension
6:00 PM
Jack Halberstam,