Traces of the Animal Past: Methodological Challenges in Animal History

Aelbert Cuyp, "Young Herdsmen with Cows," ca. 1655–60

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Papers from this event were since published in an edited collection, Traces of the Animal Past: Methodological Challenges in Animal History (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2022).

In recent years, researchers in the humanities and social sciences have taken up the challenge of the so-called “animal turn,” a multispecies approach to scholarship that has opened up new ways of understanding human-animal relations in both the past and present. Historians have been at the forefront of new research in human-animal studies, blending traditional archival and oral history research methods with interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks that decenter humans in historical narratives in order to better understand the past from non-anthropocentric perspectives.

Part of the challenge for historians is to find the animal in the archives. Whether it is a large public archive, a small private collection, or the oral histories of living memories, finding animals in the past can be difficult. Their histories are mediated by the humans who inscribed the records and organized archival collections. Through oral histories, the place of animals in the past is further refracted through the frailty of human memory and recollection.

This conference will examine methodologies for research in animal history and pick up on themes from the Archives of Ontario exhibit, “Animalia.” How do we find nonhuman animals in the archive? What sources inform animal histories? How do historians analyze such sources? How do historians interpret past animal behaviour and the agency of nonhuman animals?

Register Before October 31 Here


Thursday, November 7, 2019

George Spragge Classroom
Archives of Ontario
134 Ian MacDonald Blvd
Toronto, ON

Coffee and Snacks (8:30am-9am)

Session 1: Rethinking Animal History (9am-10:30am)

Chair: Jennifer Bonnell, York University

  1. Harriet Ritvo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    “Looking Backward (and Forward)”
  2. Sandra Swart, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
    “Kicking over the Traces? Freeing the Animal from the Archive”
  3. Margaret Derry, Adjunct Professor, History Department, University of Guelph, and Associated Faculty, Campbell Centre for Animal Welfare, Department of Animal and Poultry Science, University of Guelph
    “The Animal Question: Documentation and an Interdisciplinary Search for Information”
  4. Susan Nance, University of Guelph
    “Who is a Greyhound? Reflections on the Nonhuman Digital Archive”

Refreshment break (10:30am-11am)

Session 2: The Stories We Tell About Animals (11am-12:30pm)

Chair: Marcel Martel, York University

  1. Jay Young, Archives of Ontario
    “Creatures on Display: Making an Animal Exhibit at the Archives of Ontario”
  2. Dolly Jørgensen, University of Stavanger, Norway
    “Portraits of Extinction: Encountering Extinction Narratives in the Natural History Museum
  3. J. Keri Cronin, Brock University
    “Hidden in Plain Sight: How Can Art and Visual Culture Help Us Think About Animal Histories?”

Lunch (12:30pm-1:30pm)

Session 3: City Species (1:30pm-3pm)

Chair: Jay Young, Archives of Ontario

  1. Andrew Robichaud, Boston University
    “Reconstructing the Animal City: Challenges and Discoveries”
  2. Sean Kheraj, York University
    “Spatial Analysis and Digital Urban Animal History”
  3. Lisa Cox, CAV Barker Museum of Canadian Veterinary History
    “Finding Montreal’s Urban Animals through the Lens of Veterinary Medicine”

Refreshment break (3pm-3:30pm)

Session 4: Science and the Animal (3:30pm-5pm)

Chair: Edward Jones-Imhotep, York University

  1. Joanna Dean, Carleton University
    “Guinea Pig Agnotology”
  2. Tina Loo and Colleen Campbell, University of British Columbia
    “The Secret Life of the Bears: Radio-Telemetry Data and Animal History”
  3. Jody Hodgins, York University
    “Mediators of Animal Health: Veterinary Science in Rural Southern Ontario, 1871-1933”


Schulic Executive Dining Room (5:30pm-7pm)

Avie Bennett Historica Canada Public Lecture in Canadian History (7pm-8:30pm)


George Colpitts, University of Calgary

“Retail Animalia: Consumers, the Animal Anti-Cruelty Movement, and the Canadian Fur Trade, 1920-1940”

Friday, November 8, 2019

George Spragge Classroom
Archives of Ontario
134 Ian MacDonald Blvd
Toronto, ON

Coffee and Snacks (8:30am-8:45am)

Session 5: Knowing Animals, Knowing Humans (8:45am-10:15am)

Chair: Sean Kheraj, York University

  1. Jennifer Bonnell, York University
    “Sweet Predicaments: Writing a Honey Bee History”
  2. Emily Wakild, Boise State University
    “What’s a Guanaco? Tracing the Llama Diaspora through and Beyond South America”
  3. Catherine McNeur, Portland State University
    “Vanishing Flies: The Panic of 1837, the Lady Entomologist, and the Cecidomyia Culmicola
  4. Lindsay Marshall, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    “Hearing History Through Hoofbeats: Exploring Equine Volition and Voice in Historical Narrative”

Session 6: Animal Biographies (10:30am-12pm)

Chair: TBA

  1. Zach Syme, York University
    “Thy Good Friend Bonfire: John McCrae and his Animal Companions”
  2. Jason Colby, University of Victoria
    “Tuffy’s Cold War: Science, Dolphins, and the US Navy”
  3. Nigel Rothfels, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
    “The Elephant in the Archive”