Past Meetup

The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships (Book Discussion)

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How have human-animal relationships changed through history? What can history suggest to us about the future of human-animal relationships? This discussion will explore modern themes of human-animal relationships such as elective vegetarianism, animal rights, factory farming, and ranching in the context of humanity's long history of animal domestication, herding, and hunting. Might our changing relationships with animals be related to the modern penchant for violence in movies and video games and the rise of pornography? What changes might we expect from the emergence of postdomesticity in some parts of the world? The provocateur of these questions is Richard W. Bulliet whose book "Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships" (July 2007) explores the topic in depth.

"We are today living through a new watershed in human-animal relationships, one that appears likely to affect our material, social, and imaginative lives as profoundly as did the original emergence of domestic species. ... [This] new episode in the history of human-animal relations opened fairly recently but has not yet been recognized." --- Richard W. Bulliet Major topics for the discussion include

Animal Domestication Bulliet's thesis about the four historical stages of human-animal relationships: Separation, Predomesticity, Domesticity, and Postdomesticity How has the role of animals in the human imagination changed over time What is the nature of the emerging postdomestic era of human-animal relationships? Why are these changes happening? What might be the future of human-animal relationships? Questions for the discussion:

What role did animals play in the human imagination before we transitioned to meat-eating? During the hunting and gathering period that preceded domestication? During the period when the large animals (cows, sheep & goats) were domesticated? How did our relationship with animals change during the age of domesticity? Are we now entering a new age of postdomesticity where polyethylene film instead of public slaughter of animals has become the normal experience of meat consumption? How is this change affecting our imagination of animals? Would a character like Bambi even be even possible in a world where butchers provided their services in public as a normal part of everyday life? Does it matter that most children no longer see animal sex? Why has humanity transitioned from a world in which human and animal sacrifice was practiced everywhere and now both practices disgust us?

Note: Richard Bulliet is the lecturer for a course on "World History to 1500 CE" that was discussed at the 10 February Meetup on World History / Global Culture ( The following lectures from that course provide supplementary materials for this topic on human-animal relationships (only parts of these lectures directly apply: especially the first two which discuss the imaginary of ancient peoples more broadly than just their relationships with animals, but that background is important for Bulliet's thesis about domestication):

Session 11/12: thesis that property begins with animals instead of with land or possibly with water; the possible importance of the cattle cults of Africa ( Session 18: Megafauna extinctions; domestication of animals. ( Session 19: Sacrifice & sport; domestication & common denominators or universals ( Session 21: History of food (