A History of Animals in the Atlantic World

Professor: Abel Alves
Institution: Ball State University
Course Number: 497

History 497, section 001
Spring Semester 2011
Monday, 6:30-9:10 PM
Burkhardt Building 106
Abel Alves
Burkhardt Building 216
[email protected]; 285-8729

Office Hours: Monday, 5:00-6:30; also by appointment


The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once wrote that animals are not only “good to eat,” they are “good to think.”  Throughout the course of human history, people have interacted with other animals, not only using them for food, clothing, labor and entertainment, but also associating with them as pets and companions, and even appreciating their behaviors intrinsically.  Nonhuman animals have been our symbols and models, and they have even channeled the sacred for us.  This course will explore the interaction of humans with other animals in the context of the Atlantic World from prehistoric times to the present.  Our case studies will include an exploration of our early hominid heritage as prey as well as predators; our domestication of other animals to fit our cultural needs; how nonhuman animals were used and sometimes respected in early agrarian empires like those of Rome and the Aztecs; how Native American, African and Christian religious traditions have wrestled with the concept of the “animal”; the impact of the Enlightenment and Darwinian thought; and the contemporary mechanization of life and call for animal rights.  Throughout the semester, we will be giving other animals “voice,” even as Aristotle in The Politics said they possessed the ability to communicate.  We will also explore who we are as a unique species and what we share with other animals.


Grading will be based on a take-home exam (25%); your own evidence-based and substantiated definition of “animal” (10%); a book review (15%) of one of the assigned or optional readings; a critical analysis of a work of art found online or at the Ball State University Museum of Art (10%); and a final research paper (7-10 pages) or group project (30%).  The final paper or project will also be presented to the entire class as part of your grade (5%).  Attendance and discussion will determine the final portion (5%) of your grade.  The book review and art critique should be in the vicinity of some 750 words.

For the final paper or project, please select something that is both manageable in scope and of interest to you.  If you choose to work as an individual, you might consider focused engagement with one primary source: e.g., a detailed analysis of the writings of Montaigne on animals; an analysis of anthropomorphism and zoomorphism in the Florentine Codex; what the RSPCA stands for today through a reading of their website; the life of Anna Sewell in relation to Black Beauty; an overview of how Peter Singer, James Serpell and Linda Kalof compare in their approaches to the history of human association with other animals; or how a modern ethologist (Cynthia Moss or Jane Goodall) describes animal behavior.  Try to build on something that you have read in class or already know a little about from other classes.  If you choose to join a group, you might consider continuing work on an electronic exhibit and catalogue of Ball State University Museum of Art works that portray nonhuman animals.  There are other potential group projects: e.g., the meaning of humane husbandry in contemporary agriculture or student pet-keeping explored through interviews.  A very useful background overview to any of these topics regarding human association with other animals is: James Serpell, In the Company of Animals: A Study of Human-Animal Relationships (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

If you face any physical challenges that might interfere with your success in this course, please do not hesitate to tell me.  Aside from what I can do to accommodate your needs, assistance often can be provided by the Office of Disabled Student Development (SC 116/285-5293) and the Learning Center (NQ 323/285-1006).



  • Virginia DeJohn Anderson. Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America.   Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • David DeGrazia. Animal Rights: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Linda Kalof. Looking at Animals in Human History. London: Reaktion Books, 2007.
  • Bernardino de Sahagún. The Florentine Codex. Vol. 11: Earthly Things. Translated by Charles E. Dibbleand Arthur J. O. Anderson. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1963.

Optional (choose one):

  • Isabel Allende. City of the Beasts. Harper Perennial, 2009.
  • David Brin. Startide Rising. Spectra, 1984.
  • Grant Morrison. Animal Man. DC Comics/Vertigo, 1991.
  • Anna Sewell. Black Beauty. Signet Classics, 2002.
  • T.H. White. The Book of Merlin. University of Texas Press, 1988.

Useful websites

Animals and Society Institute: www.animalsandsociety.org

Animal Studies at Michigan State University: www.animalstudies.msu.edu/

H-Animal: www.h-net.org/~animal/

Ball State University Museum of Art: www.bsu.edu/artmuseum/dido/

Animals in Action: An Exploration of Animals in Art.  Created by Jessica Barnes, Teya Green, Alysha Page, Nick Reddy and Andrew Vandewielle.  Currently available at http://jbarnes2.iweb.bsu.edu/AnimalsArt/index.html.



Week I (January 10):  Humans and Other Animals: Competition, Cooperation and Coevolution

Required Reading: None


  • Bekoff, Marc and Jessica Pierce. Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009.
  • Bulliet, Richard W.  Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • Coppinger, Raymond and Lorna Coppinger. Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution. New York: Scribner, 2001.
  • Dugatkin, Lee Alan. Cooperation among Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Dunbar, Robin.  Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.
  • Hardy, Sarah Blaffer.  Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1999.
  • Mayr, Ernst.  What Evolution Is.  New York: Basic Books, 2001.
  • Waal, Frans de.  Our Inner Ape: a Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are.  New York: Riverhead Books, 2005.
  • Wrangham, Richard and Dale Peterson.  Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence.  Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.

Monday, January 17:  NO CLASS in honor of Martin Luther King Day.

Week II (January 24):  Human Agrarian Empires: the Mediterranean World

Required Reading: Kalof, 1-39; Pliny the Elder, The Natural History, trans. John Bostock, Book VIII, chapters 1-11 (available at www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.02.0137).


  • Aesop.  The Complete Fables. Translated by Olivia and Robert Temple. London: Penguin Books, 1998.
  • Arnhart, Larry.  “The Darwinian Biology of Aristotle’s Political Animals,” American Journal of Political Science 38: 2 (May 1994): 464-485.
  • Burkert, Walter.  Creation of the Sacred: Tracks of Biology in Early Religions.  Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1996.
  • Clutton-Brock, Juliet.  A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals.  Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999; originally published 1987.
  • Hughes, J. Donald.  Pan’s Travail: Environmental Problems of the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
  • Jennison, George.  Animals for Show and Pleasure in Ancient Rome.  Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1937.
  • Scullard, H. H. The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1974.


Week III (January 31):  Human Agrarian Empires: the Americas and Africa

Required Reading: The Florentine Codex. Vol. 11: Earthly Things.



  • Brotherston, Gordon. “Andean Pastoralism and Inca Ideology.” In The Walking Larder: Patterns of Domestication, Pastoralism, and Predation. Edited by J. Clutton-Brock. London: Unwin Hyman, 1989: 240-255.
  • Law, Robin. “A West African Cavalry State: the Kingdom of Oyo,” Journal of African History 16: 1 (1975): 1-15.
  • Morales, Edmundo. The Guinea Pig: Healing, Food, and Ritual in the Andes. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1995.
  • Olátéjú, Adésolá. “The Yorùbá Animal Metaphors: Analysis and Interpretation,” Nordic Journal of African Studies 14: 3 (2005): 368-383.
  • Olusola, Ajibade George. “Animals in the Traditional Worldview of the Yorùbá,” Electronic Journal of Folklore 30 (2005): 155-172; available from www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol30/olusala.pdf; accessed November 29, 2010.

Week IV (February 7):  Nonhuman Animals and the Christian Mosaic

Required Reading: Kalof, 40-96.


  • Badke, David, Editor. The Medieval Bestiary: Animals in the Middle Ages.  Available at http://bestiary.ca.
  • Evans, E. P. The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals: the Lost History of Europe’s Animal Trials. London: Faber and Faber, 1987.
  • Hobgood-Oster, Laura.  Holy Dogs and Asses: Animals in the Christian Tradition.  Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2008.
  • Salisbury, Joyce E.  The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages.  New York and London: Routledge, 1994.
  • Schmitt, J.-C.  The Holy Greyhound: Guinefort, Healer of Children since the 13th Century.  Translated by M. Thom.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.


Week V (February 14):  Montaigne vs. Descartes, a French Duel

Required Reading: Kalof, 95-99; Michel de Montaigne, Essays, trans. Charles Cotton (1630-1687), Book II, chapter 11, “Of Cruelty” (available at www.gutenberg.org/files/3600/3600~h/3600-h.htm).


  • Boas, George. The Happy Beast in French Thought of the Seventeenth Century.  Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1933; reprinted New York: Octagon Books, 1966.
  • Guerrini, Anita. “The Ethics of Animal Experimentation in Seventeenth-Century England,“ Journal of the History of Ideas 50: 3 (July-September 1989): 391-407.
  • Harrison, Peter. “Descartes on Animals,” The Philosophical Quarterly 42: 167 (April 1992): 219-27.
  • Montaigne. Michel de.  The Complete Essays. Translated and edited by M. A. Screech. London: Penguin Books, 1991.

Week VI (February 21):  The Spanish Empire

Required Reading: The Animals of Spain handout.



  • Alves, Abel A.  Brutality and Benevolence: Human Ethology, Culture, and the Birth of Mexico.  Westport, CT and London: Greenwood Press, 1996.