Animals Invade English’s Hermanns Lectures

Animals, how we see them and how we relate to them is the focus of the Department of English’s annual Hermanns Lecture Series on March 30.

The one-day event, free and open to the public, will be held in the Sixth Floor Parlor of the Central Library and include award-winning researchers and professors from across the country.

The scholars will discuss animals in history, literature, philosophy, art and cultural theory, showcasing animals in a new light: snakes with female faces, cross-species affinities and nonhuman animal bodies. The series will also include a look at new animal-inspired artworks – video and photography.

Associate Professor Dr. Neill Matheson said the lecture topic is timely.

“The current interest in animal studies is the result of several different developments converging right now,” he said. “Environmental studies has grown strongly in humanities departments across the country. Recent work in the sciences has made people aware of our close kinship with animals. Animal studies scholarship has begun to question our assumptions about the privileged place of the human.”

Matheson is one of the featured speakers and will discuss Henry David Thoreau’s thinking about animality in “Animal Sympathies: (In)humanity and Creaturely Life in Walden.” Using the author’s seminal work, the UT Arlington professor said he wants to explore the differences and affinities between human and nonhuman animals.

“My work on Thoreau has explored the intersections of science, literature, and culture,” he said. “There’s a popular image of Thoreau as a hermit, who wanted to create an idyllic life in the woods. But he was deeply engaged with the major intellectual currents of the day. … He’s a writer who doesn’t gloss over contradictions that we might not want to confront, including the contradictory ways in which we think about our relationship to nonhuman animals.”

The lecture series will also be topical for many of the department’s faculty and students who are pursuing similar research paths. Doctoral student Matthew Lerberg’s dissertation examines animal representations in film, art and literature. The idea was born in a graduate course taught by Professor Dr. Stacy Alaimo, who has written several journal articles and books on the topic.

“I’m interested in the aesthetics and ethics of representing animals,” said Lerberg. “Traditionally, animals become symbols or they serve to think about the divide that exists between them and humans as opposed to how closely we’re related. My work is about the relationships between humans and animals, and bridging that divide.”

The event will open at 11 a.m. with a look at humanistic features in snakes by Dr. Peggy McCracken (University of Michigan). This event is sponsored by the Festival of Ideas Global Research Institute and the Women’s and Gender Studies program.

Other lectures include “Biopolitics and the (Non-Human) Animal Body” by Dr. Cary Wolfe (Rice University) and “Animal Impressions” by visual artist Allison Hunter. Matheson said Wolfe’s involvement in the event is exciting.

“Wolfe is a founding thinker in the field of animal studies,” he said. “His first book, Animal Rites, was a pioneering text that raised questions people hadn’t addressed.”

For more information about the Hermanns lectures, visit http://www.uta.edu/english/alaimo/Animals-March%2030th%20Hermanns.html.

(Story by James Dunning, COLA Communications)

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