I was asked to provide a list of my top 5 picks in the field of animal history (or human-animal histories as I normally refer to it). It was a really tough list to make! On any given day I could come up with a completely different list of books that have inspired me in this field. And I hate that I had to limit it to only five books, although as you will see, I managed to sneak in a few more. This is a growing, shifting, and changing field, and I am so excited for all the work that is being done in human-animal history right now. If you are curious about human-animal histories this list will get you started, but there are so many other good books and articles to read too. I’d love to hear what your favourites are!
In July 1909 police in London informed the organizers of an anti-vivisection protest that they could not use two of the banners made for this event. In both cases the images on the banners showed a dog being subjected to experimentation. The organizers made sure to point out that these images had been taken directly from publications which promoted animal experimentation. In other words, the organizers of the protest felt that it was important to underscore the fact that these images were not fabricated representations but, rather, were adapted directly from vivisection material. There was “no exaggeration” in these images stressed Louise (“Lizzy”) Lind af Hageby, the organizer of the International Anti-Vivisection and Animal Protection Congress, a multi-day event which included this high-profile public demonstration through the streets of London on Saturday, July 10, 1909.
The police were concerned that the images on these banners could potentially stir up trouble by provoking a “turbulent element” and potentially “lead to riotous proceedings.” Of particular concern was a silk banner that included an image taken from a scientific journal showing a dog who had been subject to experimentation. This image was accompanied by the words “Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?”
A lively debate about these banners took place in the “Letters to the Editor” columns of the London papers. Dr. Stephen Paget of the Research Defence Society, a pro-vivisection organization, described the use of these images in this way as a “striking exhibition of insult and hatred” on the part of the activists, and argued that anti-vivisection societies must be losing their support amongst the general public if they were attempting to use shock tactics to draw attention to their cause. Lind af Hageby refuted this, noting that these images were not the “invention of anti-vivisectionists.”
In the end, the police’s decision to prohibit these banners was upheld. However, as a protest to this ruling, one of the forbidden banners was draped with another piece of cloth to hide the offending image, and the resulting blank banner was carried defiantly at the end of the procession.
I find this to be such a fascinating example of the role of visual culture in the animal advocacy movement from this time period! Images can, of course, draw attention to important issues, but imagine the power that this blank banner had in this context. The absence of imagery here was likely as powerful as any pictorial banner in the procession – perhaps even more so. As one eye-witness pointed out, if an image is deemed to “be of such revolting character that it cannot be carried through the streets,” then isn’t this a powerful argument against the action being depicted? As I often remind my students, when it comes to visual culture it is important to remember that what is excluded is often as significant as what is included. In this case, the blank banner was a bold statement against both vivisection and censorship, and certainly a clever use of visual culture by Lind af Hageby and her colleagues.
*I discuss this event as well as the use of visual culture in other animal advocacy campaigns from this time period in my new book, Art for Animals.
*This post has also been shared on The Unbound Project website.
 “The Anti-Vivisection Procession” The Times (July 8, 1909), 3.
 “Prohibited Banners” The Standard (July 3, 1909), 8.
 “Anti-Vivisection Processions” The Times (July 9, 1909), 4.
 “The Anti-Vivisection Procession” The Times (July 8, 1909), 3.
 “The Anti-Vivisection Agitation” Saturday Review of Politics, Art, Literature, Science and Art (July 17, 1909), 83.
Being an advocate for animals can be a challenging task. It is very difficult to so be acutely aware of the many ways in which animals are exploited and harmed in our contemporary world because we are surrounded by reminders of just how ubiquitous this cruelty is. Take, for example, a holiday meal with friends and family where a meat dish is the centrepiece–where others may see a tasty treat, an animal welfare/rights/liberation activist may see a visceral reminder of suffering and death. To be constantly faced with these material reminders of the ways in which animals are (mis)treated in our society can certainly take an emotional toll. Recently there have been a number of articles offering tips on how to avoid compassion fatigue, activist burnout and how to combat the depression that often goes hand-in-hand with caring deeply for those who are suffering.
As I read these articles I can not help but think of Marie-Françoise (“Fanny”) Bernard (née Martin) who was married to Claude Bernard, a 19th century French physiologist best known for his experiments on animals. Claude Bernard was often the focus of public anti-vivisection campaigns conducted by people like Frances Power Cobbe, but this tension also played out within his domestic life. Fanny Martin detested her husband’s experiments on animals, many of which he conducted at home. To add insult to injury, the dowry paid by her father at the time of the marriage in 1845 helped to fund many of Bernard’s experiments on animals.
Perhaps as a way to attempt to make amends for her husband’s treatment of animals in his laboratory, Fanny Martin and her two daughters established a “rescue home” for stray dogs and cats. They also attended anti-vivisection protests and volunteered with the Société protectrice des animaux. Finally, in 1870 the couple legally separated, no easy task for Catholics in 19th century France!
Fanny Martin’s empathy for animals must have made her life with Bernard nearly unbearable. I marvel at the courage it must have taken for a woman in the 19th century to stand up to her husband and to take their children to protests that directly opposed their father’s work. Her volunteer work and the efforts she put in to setting up an institution to care for neglected, stray, sick, and lost dogs and cats (many of whom would otherwise end up in vivisection laboratories) is an almost forgotten footnote in the history of animal advocacy. Indeed, very little has been written about Martin and what does exist is mostly gleaned from biographies of her famous husband, biographies that, as one writer noted, “dismiss her as an uneducated woman who made Bernard’s home life hell and deprived him of the company of his daughters.”*
I propose we change this dialogue and remember Fanny Martin for her courage, bravery, and her uncompromising empathy for animals. May she serve as an inspiration for those continuing to stand up against cruelty to animals.
* Deborah Rudacille, The Scalpel and the Butterfly: The War Between Animal Research and Animal Protection (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000): 19.
**This post was also published on the Unbound Project website.
As the weather starts to turn colder, many of us are thinking about getting a new winter coat. I love that there are so many cruelty-free fashions to pick from! Imagine my delight, then, when during the course of my research I learned about a woman who was making cruelty-free alternatives to fur coats, silk scarves, and “kid” gloves over 100 years ago! Her name was Maude (“Emarel”) Freshel, and she was the co-founder of an organization known as the Millennium Guild. The Guild advocated for a lifestyle that included a vegetarian diet and hosted lavish meat-free Thanksgiving dinners in Boston in the early years of the 20th century. The sale of the cruelty-free outerwear that Freshel sewed helped to fund the activities of the Guild. A number of these fashions were featured in the Boston Sunday Post on November 17, 1912.
Freshel told reporter that members of the Millennium guild “have found splendid substitutes for furs, feather hat trimmings and kid gloves, and know we are better off without eating meat. We practice the convictions of our minds and hearts.”
Freshel was also the author of The Golden Rule Cookbook, a vegetarian cookbook promoting the abstention from meat eating for ethical reasons. Freshel defined a vegetarian (remember, the term “vegan” didn’t exist until 1944) as someone who “for one reason or another condemns the eating of flesh.” She saw this as occupying “a very different place in the world of ethics from one who is simply refraining from meat eating in an effort to cure bodily ills.” Freshel’s dog, a terrier named Sister, was also a vegetarian and reportedly enjoyed such foods as lentils, peas, apples, oatmeal, and buttered toast.
*This post was also published on The Unbound Project website.
I am really honoured to have been invited by Dr. Sally Hickson to speak at the University of Guelph later this month as part of their art history speaker series. The event takes place on Tuesday, November 19th at 5:30. More details below.
If you are in the Guelph area, please drop by and say hi!
A number of people have sent me the link to this video of an injured dolphin being supported by a number of other dolphins. She was struggling to swim on her own so a number of other dolphins carried her on their backs, ensuring that she didn’t drown. Eventually she stopped breathing and died, but even after her death a few dolphins continued to stay with her body for several minutes.
While of course we can never know the precise reasons and motivations behind the actions of these dolphins on this particular day, it seems clear that they were working together to do what they could to help their injured friend. Researchers like Marc Bekoff have repeatedly demonstrated that when we witness a scene like this it is very likely that we are witnessing compassionate, caring behaviour among nonhuman animals. There continue to be skeptics, people who believe that these kinds of characteristics only exist in human societies, but, thankfully it seems that these skeptics are fewer in number these days.
I think that visual culture has an important role to play in this dynamic. While we need to be careful to not equate video footage or photographs with “the truth” (in its most simplistic sense), there is tremendous power in giving large numbers of people the opportunity to “bear witness” to something like the scene unfolding in this video.
I am delighted to be part of the new online magazine published by Our Hen House. For years I have been a huge fan of the incredibly important work that Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan have done through this site, so it is a tremendous honour to be a columnist for their new magazine.
My column is called “Picturing Animals,” and focuses on the ways in which art and visual culture can be an important part of animal advocacy efforts. In this column I will be writing about how activists use imagery today, but will also be considering examples of art and visual culture used by activists in previous eras as I think it is important to draw connections between the history of animal advocacy and what is being done today.
I am very excited about the opportunity to write this column–I had been wanting to do more writing that blends activism and academic work, so this is a perfect fit. I’m also really happy to be part of the Our Hen House team. Jasmin and Mariann bring an “indefatigably positive” spirit to the work they do, and I find this tremendously encouraging. Activism can be a tough, lonely, and discouraging road (heck, so can academia!), and it is so easy to get burnt out. However, without fail, every single time I listen to an Our Hen House podcast or hear these two talented women speak I feel inspired to do more, to work harder to help make a difference for animals.
I was honoured to be asked to curate an online exhibit on the subject of “Humane Education” for the National Museum of Animals & Society (NMAS) this year. After several months of research and preparation, the exhibit is now live. I enjoyed working on this project, thrilled to have had the opportunity to bring this story to a broader audience. So many people helped make this exhibit a reality, and I’m so grateful for all of their kindness, hard work, and generosity.
The NMAS is a wonderful museum dedicated to preserving the history of human-animal relationships, a history that has until very recently been woefully neglected by curators, historians, and academics. This is an important history, and the work that the NMAS is doing is so valuable. If you have any artefacts relating to the history of human-animal relationships or advocacy campaigns from previous eras that you would like to donate to the museum, they would love to hear from you!
I had a whirlwind day and managed to get to the V&A, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum all before 5pm. I’m totally wiped out, but had a great day! The one thing that I was a little disappointed about was that the ‘wildlife garden’ at the Natural History Museum was closed because it was raining — that was, in fact, one of the things that I really did need to visit on this research trip so I’ll have to try and get back there before we fly home next week. The silver lining was that since I couldn’t poke around the wildlife garden I had time to check out Mark Dion’s exhibition, systema metropolis – very cool! Of course I had to buy the catalogue. I’ve been on a book-buying spree and have no idea how I’ll get them all home! Another highlight of the day was enjoying a pint in the ‘Green Dining Room’ designed by Morris & Co. at the V&A. Yay!