CFP: The Ideal Animal – How Images of Animals and Animals Were Created

Brett Mizelle's picture

The Ideal Animal – How Images of Animals and Animals Were Created

International Conference June 2-3, 2016
University of Kassel Deadline: February 15, 2016

Call for Papers

The immutability of species was one of the core-aspects of the idea of a “great chain of being” and resided still strongly in the works of for instance Linnaeus. It took until the nineteenth century, after the publication of the works of Lamarck and Darwin, that it became generally accepted that animals change. Very slowly, due to changing environments or variation and selection, and much quicker through human intervention. Humans shape animals, striving for the ideal form they have in mind for particular animals. This is especially the case for animals that live in close proximity to us, such as livestock and pets. Selective breeding has brought on most of the changes to chickens, dogs and all the other animals that we label domesticated. We have been doing so long before Darwin. Examples are plenty, including most famously Robert Bakewell’s practices in the eighteenth century, but in fact they go back to the first attempts at domestication, tens of thousands of years ago.

The use of selective breeding increased in nineteenth century farming. Breeding societies appeared, the number of breeds increased and breeding methods kept on developing. Animals had to be improved, or, in the breeders’ jargon, ‘ennobled.’ This meant in practice that particular animals had to conform to an ideal image, a breed standard. At breeding-exhibitions, much attention was given to the appearance of animals and only the most 'perfect' animals were shown and were awarded prizes. In other settings, such as the development of factory farming, different ideals played a role in the production of the ideal animal, such as growth, food intake or fertility. Ideal images of animals existed also outside the world of livestock breeding. Especially in nineteenth century England, members of the many existing pet-breeding societies were also pursuing strategies to create the ideal animal. The number of breeds produced only increased in the twentieth century.

These two very different worlds have at least one thing in common: In each case, an ideal image is formed and a breeding method or/and system developed in an attempt to reach this ideal. This ideal image changed over time, led to transformations of breeds or resulted in the creation of (new) breeds. And so did also the methods and systems to achieve this. We want to explore how these ideal images and animals came into being and, in the course of the conference, how these methods and images changed over the nineteenth and twentieth century, and how these changes related to the development of theories on inheritance. To this end we welcome all contributions that address this topic.

Possible questions include:

In regard to ideal images:
How did an ideal image, or standard of a certain breed, come into being? What was the role of economic goals (for example milk-yields or meat-type conformation), animal health and certain expectations towards behaviour (operability or anthropomorphic qualities), or aesthetic considerations (such as colour or stature)? How were these perspectives influenced by ‘societal tendencies’ such as fashion, taste or morals? Who determined the ideal image? Were there interdependencies among/between different worlds of breeding?

In regard to breeding methods:
In which way did breeding methods for producing the ideal animal develop? Could different methods co-exist and lead to similar results? How was breeding organized? By governments, through application of scientific research or based on private initiatives? Who was involved: amateurs, scientists, landowners, farmers, livestock dealers, economists, government officials, societies, civilians or ‘the state’? What were their underlying theoretical assumptions about breeding? How did these assumptions influence the methods of breeding (herd books, progeny-testing, measuring animals)? Through what procedures was the ‘result’ (i.e. the particular animal) evaluated (breeding shows, measuring their performance)?

In regard to animals:
What human-animal relations are visible in these developments? In what way did the animals have agency of their own? What can the historical sources tell us about animals? How were they perceived by their owners and how did the world change to these animals themselves?

The conference will be held June 2-3, 2016, at the University of Kassel, Germany. Please submit abstracts of 200-300 words by 15 February, 2016. Travel and accommodation funds are available for authors of the selected papers.

The conference is organised by Ulrike Heitholt, M.A., LOEWE Research Cluster "Animals-Humans- Society" University of Kassel and Steven van der Laan, M.Sc., Freudenthal Institute, Descartes Centre, Utrecht University. Please contact us through and for submission of abstracts and further information regarding the conference.