Sophomore Seminars

Animal Archives: History Beyond the Human


There’s a great big world out there. We humans are just one of a million or more animate beings on this planet. Nonhuman animals have their own histories that influence, intersect with, and stand apart from our own. This IntroSem takes animals seriously as subjects of historical study.

Together we’ll explore how the study of animals—from platypus to (plastic) pink flamingo—offers new ways of seeing human history. We’ll examine how animals have shaped historical events and, inversely, how animals are historical artifacts. And we’ll spend the majority of the course puzzling through challenges that arise when studying nonhumans. Can we understand creatures that do not communicate the way we do? Do nonhumans tell stories and chronicle their own histories? Are animals themselves archives of historical information? If so, how do we read them? This course will introduce you to diverse ways of studying historical animals and contemporary creatures too.

You’ll write animal biographies, practice slow witnessing of the more-than-human world, and conduct research deep dives into nonhuman narratives. You’ll encounter multi-disciplinary approaches to our core questions, including historical and cultural analysis, ethnography, scientific inquiry, and technological surveillance. Ultimately, you’ll gain insight into how scholars reconstruct the past and know the lives of others, whether human or nonhuman. The creative research skills and critical analysis that you exercise in Animal Archives will serve you in other history courses and beyond.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Alison Grace Laurence

"I am a cultural historian with research interests in museums and the more-than-human world. I write about dinosaurs, deep time, and the politics of display. I’ve got a side project on Bigfoot, too. During my college years, I spent summers at home in Chicago interning at the Field Museum of Natural History by day. (By night, I worked in an ice cream shop.) It was during my time at the museum—studying the taxidermy, examining exhibit text, visiting with SUE the T. rex—that I began to think critically about how we apprehend histories beyond the human.

"Before coming to Stanford, I earned a Ph.D. from MIT’s interdisciplinary History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society program. I also have degrees in Public History and Classics (Latin & Ancient Greek). Though not exactly raised by wolves, I did grow up with dogs in place of siblings."