Monday, January 09, 2012

Are the Humanities becoming the “Animal Sciences”

A theme of my "Biology of Mind" course at the University of Wisconsin and the book of that title that I generated from my lecture notes was that our understanding of almost any aspect of our culture and literature could be enhanced by knowledge of its biological underpinnings. As more or and more of the cognitive faculties once assumed to be unique to humans are found in animals (aspects of math, language, tool use, the roots of morality) the citadel of the Humanities has increasingly taken note and an
article by James Gorman points to the consequences of this: a array of courses that bridge animal studies and human animal interactions.
This spring, freshmen at Harvard can take “Human, Animals and Cyborgs.” Last year Dartmouth offered “Animals and Women in Western Literature: Nags, Bitches and Shrews.” New York University offers “Animals, People and Those in Between.”
The existence of an emerging scholarly community is reflected by the recent formation of the Animals and Society Institute, which lists more than 100 college level courses that fit under the broad banner of animal studies. Previously ignored ethical issues in the treatment of animals are being scrutinized. The human-animal divide is being eroded as humans increasingly realize they too are animals, and subject to the same natural forces. Any cultural trend that injects just a bit more humility into us humans has to be a good thing.

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