Animals in French History

Call for Papers, Special Issue of French History. Edited by Christopher Pearson (Liverpool) and Peter Sahlins (UC Berkeley)

The “animal moment” has arrived in France, perhaps belatedly with respect to the English-speaking world, but certainly in its distinctive shape and significance. More than a quarter century after Robert Delort announced that Les animaux ont une histoire (1984), a rich but fragmented scholarship has accumulated, pulled in several directions at once. These include 1) a representational history of animals in written texts and visual culture, linked to the practice of human-animal relations (“from the human perspective,” as in the work of Michel Pastoureau or Daniel Roche); 2) a philosophical tradition of “Continental” or “post-structural” thinking about human-animal difference from Emannuel Levinas to Jacques Derrida; and 3) an effort to rewrite French history “from the animal’s perspective,” constituting the animal as subject and agent of history. Much of the recent scholarship (Elisabeth de Fontenay, Jacqueline Porchet, Dominique Lestel, Francoise Burgeat, and recently Eric Baratay) grows out of this third path, informed by a militant ethical engagement and moral imperatives about animal subjects, and by the concomitant belief in animal capacities for rational thought, emotional lives, and language that are equal to if not surpassing our own. A vast range of perspectives, then, can be considered under the rubric of “French Animal Studies” as scholars struggle to legitimate this relatively new field of historical inquiry.

Responding critically to the emergence of “French Animal Studies”, this special issue of French History will include five articles on animals in France since the Middle Ages that draw from the best of these three perspectives. The editors seek contributions that draw from across disciplines, from visual culture to literature to science studies, but that discuss animals in relation to French political, religious, cultural, economic, and/or social history, and in relation to the transformative moments and processes of the French past (the religious reformation, state-building, the French Revolution, industrialization, modern warfare, the history of gender relations, colonialism and post-colonialism, etc). The editors will select articles based on their ability to bring together theory and empirical research, their capacity to use animals to illuminate new ways of thinking about French history, and their innovative and rigorous scholarship.

Interested contributors must submit a one-page prospectus and bibliography in French or English by November 1st, 2012. Selections will be made by early 2013, and final submissions must be received by June 2013. Please send all inquiries and proposals to Peter Sahlins ( and Chris Pearson (