Animals in science
Precautions against foot and mouth disease: outbreaks have haunted rural life across the generations
Do animals have a history beyond the mere biology of their being? This question forms the basis of several strands of research at CHSTM.
CHSTM has an established record of research in this area. Studies of veterinary history, for example, have produced policy orientated research on the history of foot and mouth disease (Dr Abigail Woods, now at Imperial College), nineteenth-century cattle plague, and the development of the State Veterinary Service. The history of veterinary science continues to inform the work of Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys, whose analysis of rabies as a historically constituted disease explores how understandings and representations of zoonoses shaped changing relations between humans and animals in Victorian Britain. Pemberton and Worboys are also working on the history of the pedigree dog, investigating the growth of competitive showing, and the industries which emerged to sustain pedigree dog keeping, including the supply of nutritional foods, technologies of control such as the leash, and development of regimes of training and care.
Pedigree breeding also marks the starting point of Rob Kirk’s research, which traces the origins of the laboratory animal provision to the breeding of pedigree rabbits, mice and guinea pigs within the nineteenth century ‘small animal fancy’. By historicizing the development of laboratory animal use from the late nineteenth century, Kirk finds an antecedent of the contemporary biocapitalization of animals for biomedical use in this Victorian hobby. Kirk’s research also addresses the practical and ethical complexities of biomedical dependence upon the animal body. Focusing equally upon developments within and without the laboratory, Kirk explores how changing laboratory practices through the twentieth century informed, and were informed by, emerging ethical understandings of the animal in wider culture and society.
This approach also underpins a collaboration between Duncan Wilson and Edmund Ramsden (University of Exeter), which investigates how scientists have conscripted animals to help understand why people kill themselves. Wilson and Ramsden argue that the question of the self-destructive animal has long served as a critical arena in which the nature of suicide is debated. They show how work on animal ‘suicide’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries not only reflected contemporary morality, but helped reinforce it. Their research shows how accounts of suicidal animals in the 1800s contributed to the prevalent belief in animal intelligence, and were informed by the Romantic view that suicide was a natural and heroic act. And they trace how research on animal populations in the 1900s contributed to changing medical and moral views of suicide – as an act without intention, a social phenomenon and 'disease of civilization'.
With the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and cross-species strains of flu, and against the context of contemporary debates over animal rights, laboratory experiment, transgenic organisms, pedigree breeding, companion animal keeping, and industrialized farming, the question of the animal has never been more pertinent, its history never more necessary. Yet, all too often, the animal is poorly represented in historical study. Why is it, for example, that the history of medicine has become by default the history of human medicine? Such a position becomes increasingly untenable in a world structuring its health services to withstand a pandemic predicted to originate from its industrialized farms.
How, therefore, might our understanding of medicine change if we were to approach its history without preconceived notions of human exceptionalism? By critically pursuing these questions, researchers at CHSTM seek to redress the imbalance of anthropocentric histories and develop a historically grounded understanding of the epistemological and ontological connections between human, animal, science, technology and medicine. By exploring the role of the animal in histories of science, technology, and medicine research at CHSTM offers a unique contribution to the growing interdisciplinary field of Animal Studies.
Recent publications by CHSTM staff and students
Edmund Ramsden and Duncan Wilson. "The nature of suicide: science and the self-destructive animal". Endeavour, 2010, 34 (1): 1-40 .
Robert Kirk. "Between the clinic and the laboratory: ethology and pharmacology in the work of Michael Robin Alexander Chance, c. 1946–1964". Medical History, 2009, 53: 513–536.
Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys. "150 Years of Pedigree Dog Shows". BBC History, June 2009, 58-61.
Robert Kirk. "'Wanted - standard guinea pigs': standardization and the experimental animal market in Britain, c. 1919-1947". Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 2008, 39(3): 280-291.
Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys. Mad dogs and Englishmen: rabies in Britain, 1830-2000.Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Abigail Woods. A manufactured plague: foot and mouth disease in Britain, 1893-2001. London: Earthscan, 2004.
Michael Worboys. "Germ theories of disease and British veterinary medicine, 1860-90". Medical History, 1991, 6: 308-27.
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