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Abstract

Scientist-memoirists, especially those who study animal behavior or evolutionary science, face a particular challenge: if they do not avoid expressing strongly felt connections with non-human animals, they risk being accused of anthropomorphism: the imposition of human characteristics on the non-human. For American physical anthropologist and science writer Loren Eiseley (1907–1977), strictures against anthropomorphism – particularly strong during the mid-20th century, his most productive period – resulted in tensions that influenced not only his essays about science but also his representation of his own identity in his autobiographical writing. Rather than edit out all references to human–animal connection, Eiseley claims anthropomorphism as a strategic choice in the interpretation of the natural world: in exploring the possibility of shared characteristics, we do not just impose human traits onto other animals; instead, we may see qualities in animals that we then recognize in ourselves. Recent discussions (among cognitive ethnologists, linguists, and others) of the uses of anthropomorphism give serious attention to this and similar viewpoints. However, Eiseley’s references to animal-human connections – even in his autobiography – tend to be defensive, resulting in a self-representation that is alternately argumentative and elusive.