ANIMALS AND THE INTIMACY OF HISTORY
Article first published online: 9 DEC 2013
© Wesleyan University 2013
History and Theory
Special Issue: Does History Need Animals?
Volume 52, Issue 4, pages 45–67, December 2013
How to Cite
WALKER, B. L. (2013), ANIMALS AND THE INTIMACY OF HISTORY. History and Theory, 52: 45–67. doi: 10.1111/hith.10687
- Issue published online: 9 DEC 2013
- Article first published online: 9 DEC 2013
- world history;
- environmental history
This article surveys recent historical writings on animals. Its principal concerns are the manner in which historians grant agency to animals and how that agency functions in historical narration. The article examines the histories of animals in Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and North America in order to tease out the similarities and differences of human experiences with other animals. The foundational premise of the article is that humans are animals, sometimes even a meaty prey species, and that, as such, they are not external to nature or, ultimately, different from other animals in this regard. Humans can have violently intimate relationships with other creatures, an intimacy that defines much of global human history. Animals permeate our history and we theirs: tug at the threads and our stories, woven as they are into the same tightly knit tapestry, will not disentwine. The debate regarding whether humans are anomalous and outside nature or separate from other animals is complicated when the stomach enzymes from an animal, whether wolf or crocodile, digest a human being. Therefore, the cultural-constructionist arguments regarding “the animal”—that our understanding of nonhuman animals is entirely culturally generated—need to be viewed as overly simplistic. My contention is that our reluctance to join the rest of the animal kingdom on its terms, on more natural terms, exposes a lingering devotion to human “exceptionalism,” one that is inherent in the humanities and social sciences.