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Keywords:

  • animal studies;
  • historiography;
  • sensory history;
  • Temple Grandin;
  • early modern England;
  • human–animal relations;
  • agricultural history

ABSTRACT

This article takes as its point of departure a small piece of evidence: a single-line entry in a seventeenth-century Essex Sessions Roll about the theft of milk. This fragment of the legal archive and the world it offers us a glimpse of are used to explore what it might mean to take seriously the presence of animals as historical actors. The article also—and inseparably—asks us to think about the nature of that being called the human that so frequently goes without comment in historical (as in other humanities) scholarship. Using work from historiography, sensory history, social history, anthropology, and contemporary animal science, the article proposes that introducing animals as actors and not just as objects into historical work will not only broaden and deepen what we might know about the past, it will also challenge some assumptions as to what the focus of our discipline might be.