English and drama

Humans and Animals

Module code: Q3268
Level 5
15 credits in autumn teaching
Teaching method: Seminar
Assessment modes: Coursework

The question of the human’s relation to the animal structures everyday life in ways we do not necessarily notice: we encounter animals as companions, as food, as property, as pests, as curiosities, and as creatures like ourselves. Though humans are animals, there is a long tradition of thought that emphasizes the distinction between humans and other animals based on reason and speech; there is also a counter-tradition that objects to such a hierarchy and insists that sensation and feeling are far more important than reason and speech.

This module investigates the relationship between humans and animals in British literature and culture from the eighteenth century to the present. It considers how the categories of human and animal are defined, how humanity and animality are used as social and political metaphors, and how cultural and historical developments, ranging from pet-keeping to industrialization to the spread of empire, shape the representation of animals. We will begin by focusing on these and other issues in the eighteenth-century, a period often described as the beginning of the modern era, and we will continue to track them through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, up to the present.

Readings will include works of prose and poetry, among them texts written from the point of view of animals, as well as selections from theoretical works. Topics covered will include the animal rights movement, vegetarianism, the ‘state of nature’, sympathy, monstrosity, colonialism, and various theories of animal intelligence.

Module learning outcomes

  • Engage critically with texts on the module and place them in relation to their historical and cultural context.
  • Display an understanding of the ways in which the animal has functioned in literary and cultural discourses within the western tradition.
  • Evaluate a range of critical concepts that inform the representation of the human and the animal from the Enlightenment to the present.