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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures : English Literature

Postgraduate Course: Beastly Writing: Animals, Literature, Modernity (ENLI11264)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course will introduce students to the rich and diverse body of modern literature that has looked to reimagine the relationship between animals and humans. It will focus on the textual innovations, or instances of beastly writing, in which writers attempted to find new ways of expressing ideas about animal life, species difference, human animality and the animalisation of certain humans, animal rights, ethology and ecology, and, vegetarianism/veganism (among other topics). In so doing, it will show how the question of the animal was, and continues to be, central to the development of modern literature that looked to revise how we understand ourselves and our animal others. The course will also introduce students to the growing interdisciplinary field of animal studies, presenting them with theoretical and critical touchstones and demonstrating the ways in which both literature and theory is at the forefront of many of the debates around animal issues, from veganism to the future of zoos to pet ownership.
Course description How do we understand nonhuman animals and our relation to them? What does it mean to think of the human as an animal? And what are the implications of these questions for humans who have been historically animalised on the basis of race or ethnicity? These questions, and others, have spurred a range of innovative literary responses throughout the course of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries, with writers finding new ways to explore the aesthetic, ontological and ethical implications of living with, and as, animals.

This course will introduce students to some of the most significant examples of literature that engages with the animal question. Following a chronological structure, students will be exposed to changing ideas about human-animal relations. We will read writers from very different backgrounds, ranging across different literary periods and taking in a variety of literary genres, including novels, poetry, literary essays, speculative fiction, popular science, and life writing. Students will be able to identify how writers developed new forms of writing to respond to ideas about animal life and actively shaped cultural discourse, sometimes in very direct ways.

A further key component of this course will be to introduce students to critical and theoretical frameworks within the interdisciplinary field of animal studies. Each week, students will be introduced to a key work or influential approach to thinking about animals that will complement the literary reading.

Topics to be covered in seminar may include: the implications of Darwinism for how the human was understood; the nineteenth century emergence of animal rights discourse; the animalisation of humans in slave narratives; modernist responses to animal ontology; African-American modernism and animals; literature about zoos and ethology; the implications of factory farming for animals and workers; environmental decline and animal life; animals in speculative fiction; companion species relations; contemporary responses to the structural relationship between racism and speciesism; and the rise of vegetarianism and veganism.

The course is assessed by two pieces of written work: one essay to be completed during term-time and one to be written during the exam period. Preparation for seminars will take the form of autonomous learning group tasks. Seminars will take the form of plenary discussion, group activities and discussion and short, informal introductory lectures on the topics at hand.

Students will be encouraged to approach the question of animals and literature through a historically and theoretically alert form of analysis. As such, this course will permit students to select works of theory as primary texts within their assessments, provided they also engage with materials from the primary reading list.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Produce work that demonstrates an extensive, critical and detailed understanding of literature about animals written from the nineteenth century to the present.
  2. Confidently draw on established modes of literary criticism to discuss and analyse how literature shapes human understanding of animal life.
  3. Engage with theoretical frameworks and historical materials that enable a sophisticated approach to the question of how and why writers use different literary innovations in their texts.
  4. Have an advanced and nuanced understanding of the social and ethical debates that currently frame human and animal relations.
  5. Reflect on the benefits of taking an interdisciplinary approach to the study of literature and animals.
Reading List
Indicative Essential Texts:

Charles Darwin, selections from The Descent of Man (1871)

Henry S. Salt, Animal Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress (1892)

Frederick Douglass, selections from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas (1845), My Bondage and My Freedom (1855), and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1881).

D.H. Lawrence, selections from Birds, Beasts and Flowers (1923)

Marianne Moore, selections from Observations (1924)

Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)

David Garnett, A Man in the Zoo (1924)

Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

Russell Hobban, Riddley Walker (1980)

J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace (1999)

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (2009)

Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones (2011)


Adams, Carol J. The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory. Continuum, 2010.

Agamben, Giorgio. The Open: Man and Animal. Stanford University Press, 2004.

Armstrong, Philip. What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity. Routledge, 2008.

Bennett, Joshua. Being Property Once Myself: Blackness and the End of Man. Harvard University Press, 2020, p. 213.

Boisseron, Bénédicte. Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question. Columbia University Press, 2018.

Calarco, Matthew. Thinking through Animals: Identity, Difference, Indistinction. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Danta, Chris. Animal Fables after Darwin: Literature, Speciesism, and Metaphor. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Derrida, Jacques. The Animal That Therefore I Am. Edited by Marie-Louise Mallet, Translated by David Wills, Fordham University Press, 2008.

---. The Beast & The Sovereign Volume I and II. Translated by Geoffrey Bennington Edited by Michel Lisse et al., The University of Chicago Press, 2009-11.

Haraway, Donna. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003.

Herman, David. 'Narratology Beyond the Human: Storytelling and Animal Life'. Narratology beyond the Human: Storytelling and Animal Life, Oxford University Press, 2018.

Oliver, Kelly. Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human. Columbia University Press, 2009.

Oritz-Robles, Mario. Literature and Animal Studies. Routledge, 2018.

Ritvo, Harriet. The Animal Estate: The English and Other Creatures in the Victorian Age. Harvard University Press, 1989.

Rohman, Carrie. Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal. Columbia University Press, 2009.

Ryan, Derek. Animal Theory: A Critical Introduction. Edinburgh University Press, 2015.

Weil, Kari. Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now? Columbia University Press, 2012.

Wolfe, Cary. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Knowledge and Understanding: Students will have the opportunity to demonstrate their detailed knowledge of modern and contemporary literary responses to questions around animals. Students will also have the opportunity to develop a confident and critical grasp of the key theories, discussions and debates within the interdisciplinary field of animal studies, and will be able to see where such theories might be brought into dialogue with literature.

Applied Knowledge, Skills and Understanding: Through preparatory work for seminar discussions and during the research and writing of formal assessment tasks, students will have been able to practice the application of these concepts in their construction of arguments about the course material.

Communication: through participating in these tasks students will also have demonstrated the ability to communicate ideas and information about specialised topics in the discipline to an informed audience of their peers and subject specialists.

Autonomy and Working with Others: students will also have shown the capacity to work autonomously and in small groups on designated tasks, develop new thinking with their peers, and take responsibility for the reporting, analysis and defence of these ideas to a larger group.
KeywordsAnimals; species; animal rights; environmental humanities; veganism; Victorian; modernism;
Course organiserDr Peter Adkins
Tel: (0131 6)51 7112
Course secretaryMiss Hope Hamilton
Tel: (0131 6)50 4167
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