Animal Biographies

Toward a History of Individuals

Animal Biographies

Toward a History of Individuals

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  • Description
  • Reviews

What would we learn if animals could tell their own stories? Éric Baratay, a pioneering researcher in animal histories in France, applies his knowledge of historical methodologies to give voice to some of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries' most interesting animals. He offers brief yet innovative accounts of these animals' lives in a way that challenges the reader's thinking about animals.

Baratay illustrates the need to develop a nonanthropocentric means of viewing the lives of animals and including animals themselves in the narrative of their lives. Animal Biographies launches an all-new investigation into the lives of animals and is a major contribution to the field of animal studies.

This English translation of Éric Baratay's Biographies animales: Des Vies retrouvées, originally published in France in 2017 (Éditions du Seuil), uses firsthand accounts starting from the nineteenth century about specific animals who lived in Europe and the United States to reconstruct, as best as possible, their stories as they would have experienced them. History is, after all, not just the domain of humans. Animals have their own.

Baratay breaks the model of human exceptionalism to give us the biographies of some of history and literature's most famous animals. The reader will catch a glimpse of storied lives as told by Modestine, the donkey who carried Robert Louis Stevenson through the Alps; Warrior, the World War I horse made famous in Steven Spielberg's War Horse; Islero, the bull who gored Spain's greatest bullfighter; and others. Through these stories we discover their histories, their personalities, and their shared experiences with others of their species.

Éric Baratay's biographical account of the backstory lives of famous animals is a vivid description of experiences and feelings from the animal's point of view. The uniqueness and singularity of individual animals emerge in these 'restored stories,' encouraging a better understanding of the conditions and circumstances of actual animals. Clear, readable, and very engaging, this book is a splendid contribution to animal studies.

—Linda Kalof, author of Looking at Animals in Human History

An attractive and original work. There isn't anything much like it, and it should be of interest to scholars interested in animals in a range of humanistic disciplines, as well to general readers who share their interests.

—Harriet Ritvo, author of Noble Cows and Hybrid Zebras: Essays on Animals and History

About the Author/Editor

ÉRIC BARATAY is professor of contemporary history at the Université Jean-Moulin, Lyon. A specialist in animal history, Baratay is the author of many books, including La Société des animaux de la Révolution à la Libération (The Society of Animals from the Revolution to Liberation), Portraits d'animaux (Animal Portraits), and Et l'homme créa l'animal (And Man created the Animal).