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?
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. A link to all readings will be sent to registered participants.