Archive for July 8th, 2010

History for the dogs

8 July 2010

By Juliana Adelman

At the risk of boring those of you who are not already on your holidays, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on changing ideas of historical actors.  To get straight to the point: are dogs the new working classes?  The idea of history from below reaching beyond the human species is not especially radical in ‘animal studies’ circles.  Nevertheless, I am guessing that most historians would be reluctant to embrace the idea that a nonhuman animal be treated as a historical actor with agency.  I would tend to agree,  even as a person who studies the history of animals and who rather likes dogs.

There are some compelling reasons to consider animals as actors and as having some kind of agency.  For starters we are animals and we don’t really quite understand what it is about us that is so different from other animals.  Genetically, it amounts to very little.  So far scientists have found a very small number of uniquely human genes (discovered by Aoife McLysaght’s laboratory in TCD).  In terms of intelligence, we are aware that other animals are highly intelligent and have sophisticated means of communication.  As I noted in a different post, dolphins have recently been dubbed ‘nonhuman persons’ because of their intellectual capacity (as defined by humans).  There is, however, the minor matter of not leaving written records. Read more