Humans and Animals (Q3268)

15 credits, Level 5

Spring teaching

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. We will consider 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 industrialisation 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. 

You will read 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
  • various theories of animal intelligence.


27%: Lecture
73%: Seminar


100%: Coursework (Portfolio)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 150 hours of work. This breaks down into about 22 hours of contact time and about 128 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2023/24. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to COVID-19, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let our applicants know of material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: