This interdisciplinary and international Ringvorlesung examines the role of animals in
institutional and infrastructural arrangements, past and present. It investigates the processes
by which animals are turned into objects – living zoo attractions, museum exhibits,
diplomatic matters, commodities, material resources, laboratory tools and data sets.

The aim is to understand the trajectories, traffics and transformations of animal-objects within and
between different sites of knowledge in their global, political, scientific and cultural context.
Therefore, the RVL will examine how animals, dead and alive, have been collected,
transported, classified, processed, used, and displayed at different times. It will present
shared concerns around the politicisation, datafication and commodification of animals or
parts thereof and an extended understanding of agents, institutions and infrastructures as
human-non-human co-productions. The different lectures will provide insights into the
everyday practices of using, reproducing, recording, caring for and disposing of animals and
their bodily parts as well as the fears and imaginations they engender. In each session,
researchers from contemporary history, the history of science, cultural anthropology, cultural
studies as well as environmental history and political theory will explore specific encounters
between animal bodies, knowledge practices and material cultures in different local and
global settings. By investigating how animals are perceived, studied and managed and their
environments and worlds are represented, recreated or imagined, the RVL explores how
these processes contribute to the shaping of institutions, infrastructures and politics. What
determines their status, their mode of existence and their value and how/why does it change
– from zoo attractions to waste, from waste to material resources, from carcasses to
mounted animals and data sets?

The aim is to provide an overview of different methodological approaches and to give
insights into current interdisciplinary research projects. Therefore, the RVL presents a wide,
yet connected range of examples, spanning from colonial times to the present day. Drawing
on the different case studies, the RVL allows to address broader contexts, to communicate crucial theoretical and historical analytics and to discuss pressing current issues – the question of what is and has historically been made to count as an animal; the multiplicity of
ways and contexts in which animals were and are used, studied and classified as objects;
the role they play in signifying human socialities, just as much as the natural world. At the
same time, the RVL invites to engage in the work of historicizing ‘naturalized’ views, of
closely investigating the politics of care and the economics of conservation, of challenging a
static notion of animals as ‘objects’, and thereby critically interrogating traditional, still
effective roles, meanings, orders of knowledge, images and narratives of animals.

The Ringvorlesung draws from two current research clusters and their extended network:
The research project “Animals as Objects: Zoological Gardens and the Natural History
Museum Berlin, 1810 to 2020” based at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and the research
theme “The Body of Animals” based in Department III at the Max Planck Institute for the
History of Science.

Languages are English and German.

Semester: WiSe 2020/21