Thesis ID: CBB535964941

The Voyage of the Scientific Beagle: Dogs in the Physical and Biomedical Sciences (2021)


For as long as scientists have experimented with animals, dogs have held a central position. This dissertation offers the first comprehensive history of canine experimentation through a global account of the emergence of beagles as standard experimental animals, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Starting with the popularization of the breed as sporting companions in the Gilded Age, the dissertation shows how hunting’s return to fashion combined with concerns over cost, lifespan, and pound animal health to make beagles principal test subjects for pharmaceutical compounds and in well-funded Atomic Energy Commission experiments on longevity and radiation, programs which began the same year as the beagle Snoopy first appeared in Peanuts. Studied in these domains and adored in mass culture, the breed became models in studies of the cigarette-cancer linkage, interspecies theorizations of Alzheimer’s, and much more. The dissertation reveals animal experimentation to be a creative scientific and philosophical practice. Drawing on insights from cultural anthropology and animal studies, it explores how relations between humans and beagles were transformed by and for the production of knowledge. The value of beagles accrued not only because the dogs were “like” humans, but also because they were cute, easily trained, and enjoyable to be around. The dissertation shows how affective attraction supported the breed’s commodification as carefully produced and surgically modified tools in the expanding, transnational infrastructure of science. More than mere devices, beagles also served as vehicles for scientific imagination. The dissertation introduces the concept of “species projection” to analyze how experimental organisms can become living exemplars of human forms of life. Whether envisioned as Cold Warriors, smokers, toothbrush-ers, or prescription drug users, the dissertation shows how “species projection” holds serious implications for the purported truth of any experiment’s results. The dissertation additionally reveals how “breeding zones”—sites of production, exchange, and circulation of organisms—united an assemblage of diverse scientific projects through the traffic in beagle “biocapital.” Where existing studies of model organisms focus on questions of standardization and disciplinary development, the dissertation offers a new approach to studying how living things are commodified. It places emphasis less on traditional origin points, such as patents and biotechnologies, than on the Cold War commercialization of experimental organisms, exemplified by the transformation of beagles from hunt and show dogs to locally produced laboratory tools and, later, legislated and commercialized transnational commodities. Chapter 1 explores how beagles lost their English associations on arrival to the United States in the nineteenth century amid growing sporting interest in the breed. The chapter charts the beagle’s growing popularity, connected both to Gilded Age pet-keeping and the reemergence of hunting after World War II, in order to show how beagles took center stage in early, Rockefeller-funded experimental breeding programs at Cornell University that drew funding from a wide network of enthusiasts and pet food corporations. The chapter engages work on early funding and “citizen” science and draws new connections between sporting and experimentation. Chapter 2 shows how the Atomic Energy Commission came to fund multiple massive radiation longevity experiments with beagles starting in the 1950s. It focuses on research at the University of Utah and the University of California, Davis, analyzing a merger of traditional veterinary knowledge with advances in the novel discipline of health physics that helped centralize the beagle as the standard experimental dog. The chapter engages with literature on Cold War science and culture in America’s “Atomic West,” as the nuclear catastrophe tested on beagles remained a daily fear for millions of Americans around them. Chapter 3 takes a long view of the controversy begun in 1970 when beagle experiments appeared to finally “prove” that smoking causes cancer. Engaging with recent academic scholarship on the question of “agnotology,” or the production of ignorance, the chapter reveals how smoking experiments with beagles shifted from the final, key proof of the dangers of tobacco to potentially unethical “bad science.” The chapter shows how decaying Cold War radiobiology projects turned to the tobacco industry for support, setting up a confrontation between beagle studies on both sides of the smoking question and engaging a long literature about the value of animal experimentation. Chapter 4 covers the arrival of purebred beagles into routine pharmacological experimentation starting in the 1950s, where they supported work in the emerging field of pharmacokinetics. The chapter explores how the crisis concerning thalidomide-generated birth defects in the 1960s encouraged legislation that made beagles a requirement for both American and global pharmaceutical toxicology testing. The chapter draws new connections between animal experimentation and early computational biology, while also showcasing how beagles became mass produced commodities through large breeding corporations such as Marshall Farms, tying the history of model organisms to the history of biocapitalism. Finally, Chapter 5 explores multiple decades of research beginning around 1990 to imagine beagle dogs as models of Alzheimer’s disease through the elaboration of a new disorder: “Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.” The chapter analyzes visions of human and canine aging that generated a multispecies vision of cognitive decline before turning to the failed marketing of a human Parkinson’s treatment that accidentally led to one of the first “blockbuster” pet drugs. Engaging with work in the history and anthropology of biology on pharmaceutical development, the chapter reveals the overlooked role of pet pharmaceuticals in the industry’s shifting priorities at the turn of the millennium. Over six chapters, each centered on a different scientific or medical subdiscipline, the dissertation weaves together seemingly distinct institutions and practices, from 1920s leisure sports to atomic testing, the contemporary pet industry to neuroscience, to offer a history of global science over the last two centuries that argues for the centrality of canines in defining what it means to live, breathe, eat, age, and pass away as a human being.

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Authors & Contributors
Pearson, Chris
Ramsden, Edmund
Filipecki, Ana Tereza Pinto
Herzig, Rebecca M.
Klein, Helena Espellet
Machado, Carlos José Saldanha
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Environment and History
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Science, Technology, and Human Values
Duke University Press
Johns Hopkins University Press
Manchester University Press
Oxford University Press
Pennsylvania State University Press
University of Chicago Press
Human-animal relationships
Dogs; cats
Animal experimentation
Chirac, Jacques
Gantt, W. Horsley
Kingsford, Anna Bonus
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
21st century
20th century, early
16th century
17th century
United States
Great Britain
Paris (France)
New York City (New York, U.S.)
Ottoman Empire
United States. Food and Drug Administration (USFDA)

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