The Farmyard Worlds of Early Modern England: Animal Studies, History, Theory and Interdisciplinarity

Project: Research Fellowship

Project Details


"What was it like to work with a cow in early modern England? What were people's feelings about and towards the livestock who worked with them? These questions are the starting point for the book project that is central to this proposal. Current historical analyses tell us how important livestock animals were to the development of the economy and to the process of industrialization, for example, but thus far little has been written recognizing the crucial fact that animals are, and always have been, more than simply stock: they are living, sentient beings with whom negotiated interaction is required. This project will take such interactions as its focus and will return animals to the central place they had in the domestic environments of so many, thus tracking a lost aspect of early modern life: the day-to-day relationships between humans and livestock animals.

Tracing the simultaneously emotional and instrumental relationships that humans had with their livestock is of value for a number of reasons.

1. Historical/Pragmatic: working with animals took up a lot of time (estimates suggest that for some in the early modern period, 75% of waking hours were spent in the company of animals); and the economic and nutritional value of animals (pulling the plough, providing meat or milk) meant that livestock would have been attended to with care because illness or injury would have been a real threat to both human and animal wellbeing. To ignore livestock in the period, therefore, is to ignore something that the people themselves thought of as vital.

2. Historical/Bigger Picture: the mid-seventeenth century has been recognized as a moment when herd sizes increased and intensive farming began to emerge as the norm. This project would offer a new perspective on this larger social shift, exploring its impact on human-animal relationships, and - by extension - on concepts of the home and the family.

3. Theoretical/Interdisciplinary: the project is part of a movement in the humanities and social sciences to engage with human-animal relations. Animal Studies is a cross- and interdisciplinary field, and this book will contribute to ongoing scholarly debates about human-animal relations, but also about how such relations might (or might not) be thought about within the theoretical paradigms that we have; and within the disciplinary contexts we work within.

Associated with this research are three other activities which will engage wider audiences, support interdisciplinary work, foster impact, provide intellectual leadership for junior scholars, and help to shape future research agendas. These are:

1. an article for the magazine History Today (the editors have already commissioned this). This will increase awareness of the history of animals and what it adds to our understanding of the past; and a report for the Centre for Animals and Social Justice on historical shifts in farming;

2. a postgraduate symposium offering the opportunity for current animal studies PGRs to meet and engage with experienced practitioners and scholars in the field. The symposium will focus on three issues: interdisciplinarity; the establishment of animal studies in the undergraduate curriculum; and the potential for those in animal studies to work with non-academic bodies (e.g. policy makers, charities, think tanks);

3. the establishment of an online bibliography, the aim of which will be to make it easier for those in the field to keep up with new work from the range of disciplines involved. Scholars as well as those working with animals outside of academia will be able to access and contribute to the bibliography, and as such it will also enhance the potential of academic work to find wider-than-academic readerships, and offer the opportunity for scholars to engage with work and from outside of academia"
Effective start/end date1/09/1531/12/16


  • AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council): £130,598.00


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