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Animal Afterlives, Postmortem Bestiaries

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Organizer: Melissa Yang

Co-Organizer: Sabrina Jaromin

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This seminar invites the morbidly curious to interrogate the myriad ways in which non-human animals and death intersect, and how animal death actively shapes human culture and intellectual inquiry in diverse forums. Projects might delve into elements of book history – how by writing with quills on parchment in manuscripts and leather-bound books, centuries of knowledge were built on “stack[s] of dead animal parts produced from and at the expense of animals” (Bruce Holsinger). Others might explore the vast realm of dead animals in any era and genre of literature, from Victorian children’s books (The Life and Death of Cock Robin, occasionally attributed to Mother Goose) to nonfiction cautionary tales about climate change, to popular fiction, to contemporary scholarship (Rachel Poliquin’s The Breathless Zoo as one highlight of many). Taxidermy is certainly central to the construction of niche stories and larger natural and cultural histories alike, from Walter Potter’s anthropomorphic tableaux to Carl Akeley’s dioramas. Other forms of dead animal art might be tackled, such as Trompe-l'œil paintings of dead game and Audubon’s Birds of America. Performance and installation pieces (say, Carollee Schneemann’s “Meat Joy” or Joseph Beuys’ “How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare”), horror films, and documentaries featuring animal deaths, are more in the endless list of subject possibilities. For the entirety of human history, non-human animals have been featured in our stories, used as sacrifice, symbol, specimen, meat, inspiration, etc. Animal death, in particular, plays a dark but essential role in all of this that is worth interrogating through multidisciplinary lenses of affect, materialities, and more. Please send 250-300 word proposals through the ACLA portal by 9am on September 20, and contact melissayang@pitt.edu and sabrinajaromin@u.northwestern.edu with any questions.

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