British Association for American Studies


Ninth BrANCA reading group: Voicing the Non-Human (University of Birmingham)

Loading Events

« All Events

  • This event has passed.

Ninth BrANCA reading group: Voicing the Non-Human (University of Birmingham)

June 29, 2018 @ 1:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Ninth BrANCA reading group: Voicing the Non-Human
University of Birmingham, 29th June 2018, 1-5pm

The ninth British Association of Nineteenth-Century Americanists (BrANCA) reading group will be held at the University of Birmingham, 29th June 2018.

Among America’s most potent myths and symbols are an array of animal and non-human presences: from its national animal, the bald eagle, to the elusive white whale, Br’er Rabbit, the birds, flies, and dogs of Emily Dickinson’s poetry, and, more recently, King Kong, Mickey Mouse and a whole panoply of Muppets. But to what extent is America interested in the non-human as non-human? Are the non-humans of American literature always performing in ways that exceed their status as non-human? In what ways do the American writers of the nineteenth century approach, or exhibit a sympathy with, such animals on their own terms? Is such an approach possible? Questions like these have been explored in the flourishing field of animal studies, perhaps most famously by writers like Donna Haraway – in When Species Meet (2007) and Staying with the Trouble (2016) – and Timothy Morton – in Humankind: Solidarity with Non-Human Peoples (2017) – seeking to consider ways in which human-non-human coexistence is possible in a world afflicted by ongoing ecological devastation.

This BrANCA reading group will explore the presence of the non-human and nineteenth-century efforts to present and give voice to the non-human figures and presences. Framed by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s essay ‘The Rights of Dumb Animals’, published in Hearth and Home in 1869 and reprinted in an animal rights magazine, Our Dumb Animals we will discuss the ways in which American writers justified the rights – or the sentience – of non-humans. We will also discuss some excerpts and short pieces of fiction and poetry in which the non-human is a central presence, and whether they can teach us anything about either how to give voice to the non-human or if – more challengingly – they present alternatively epistemological or ontological positions by which our own engagement with the non-human might be restaged; or is it the case that they once more re-inscribe anthropocentrism as our de facto, and only available, vantage point?


  • Charles Chesnutt, ‘Po’ Sandy’ and ‘The Goophered Grapevine’ (1899)
  • Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, ‘The Parrot’ (1900)
  • Herman Melville, ‘Squid’ and ‘The Grand Armada’, from Moby-Dick (1851)
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, ‘The Rights of Dumb Animals’ (1869)
  • Walt Whitman, verses 31 and 32 from Song of Myself (1892 version) and ‘The World Below the Brine’ (1881 version)
  • Colleen Glenney Boggs, ‘Animals and the Formation of Liberal Subjectivity in Nineteenth-Century American Literature’, in The Oxford Handbook of Nineteenth-Century American Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 197-216
  • Jennifer Mason, ‘The Domestic Angel Animal’, chapter three from Civilized Creatures: Urban Animals, Sentimental Culture, and American Literature, 1850-1900 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), pp. 95-118
  • Matthew Wynn Sivils, ‘Vegetal Haunting: The Gothic Plant in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction’, in Ecogothic in Nineteenth-Century American Literature, ed. by Dawn Keeley and Matthew Wynn Sivils (New York: Routledge, 2017), pp. 161-174

Thanks to the generous support of the University of Birmingham, we are able to offer a limited number of travel bursaries to postgraduate students, scholars on temporary/part-time/casual contracts, and independent scholars. If you would like to be considered for a bursary, please note this in your email to the organisers.

To register for the reading group, please email Dr Jimmy Packham: j.packham@bham.ac.uk. A link to all readings will be sent to registered participants.


June 29, 2018
1:00 pm - 5:00 pm
Event Category: