Thesis ID: CBB890315766

Speaking of Animals: Animal Psychology between Experimental Science and Imagination (1840-1920) (2022)


Theoretically positioned between critical animal studies and science studies within German cultural history, “Speaking of Animals: Animal Psychology between Experimental Science and Imagination (1840-1920)” takes as its point of departure the modernist fascination with animals who could supposedly speak, write, or read. Rather than disregard these cases as pseudoscientific media sensations, I reorient enduring scientific discourses as well as popular, literary, and since-disqualified scientific discourses under the rubric of animal psychology. This orientation allows me to highlight the transdisciplinarity which the emerging study of animal behavior and communication necessitated, yet which has been overlooked in the historical scholarship. “Speaking of Animals” draws upon a range of archival materials in constructing a new, deeper genealogy of ethology and biosemiotics. In so doing, it unearths a number of forgotten figures and approaches, connecting what I maintain is the first work of animal psychology, Peter Scheitlin’s Attempt at a Complete Science of the Animal Soul (1840), to Konrad Lorenz’s imprinting investigations a century later. By underscoring the insistent presence of human versus animal communication in German culture, “Speaking of Animals” tracks the century’s changing notions of language, communication, meaning, expression, and speech. In Chapter 1, I push the accepted origin of animal psychology back to 1840, thereby reframing the fraught emergence of animal interiority as an object of scientific study. Charles Darwin’s The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) finds its precursor in Friedrich August Carus’ “Developmental History (and Relational Degree) of Emotions” (1808). Over three decades later, a Swiss priest named Peter Scheitlin took up Carus’ exploration of species-specific embodied expression, and I mark Scheitlin’s work as the first use of the term Thierpsychologie [animal psychology]. Scheitlin was the founder of animal psychology, an achievement for which he has received no credit due to his embrace of doubt—the antithesis of the empirical, increasingly experimental natural-scientific landscape into which he dispatched his work. Nearly a half-decade later, Wilhelm Wundt set out to transform Scheitlin’s soul science into an experimental science, and he did so through Darwin’s behavioral experiments and zoo-based observations. Chapter 1 is the science-historical soil onto which the 1904 Clever Hans debates of Chapter 2 falls and grows, uncontrollably. Rather than foreground the two opposing camps in this debate, I spotlight playful, science- and language-critical writing composed during and a decade afterward the debates. Through little-known works puzzling out the “Hans question”—by Fritz Mauthner, Maurice Maeterlinck, and Franz Kafka—the varying interpretations of Hans’ interspecies communication system come into full view. I demonstrate here that the “Hans question” was an interdisciplinary laboratory for testing theories of communication beyond human perception and comprehension. The limits of human perception vis-à-vis animal perception form the central tension of Chapter 3. Organized around a 1910-1911 series of phonographic recordings of “Don the talking dog” and his trainer, Martha Ebers, this chapter critiques mechanical objectivity’s promise to extend human perception in ultimately extending human knowledge. By tracking Carl Stumpf and his Berlin Phonogram Archive colleagues’ research on birdsong and avian mimicry, I show how one’s delineation of “music” from “noise” from “speech” throws into relief the limits of one’s imagination, and how these limits are shaped by overlapping systems of power. Even when filtering sound through the most sophisticated audio technologies, listening is an epistemic construct.

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Authors & Contributors
Pearson, Chris
Animal Studies Group
Booth, Kelvin Jay
Danahay, Martin A.
Fudge, Erica
Gethmann, Daniel
Comparative Studies in Society and History
History and Theory
Huntington Library Quarterly
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Science in Context
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Cambridge University Press
Cornell University Press
MIT Press
Oxford University Press
Human-animal relationships
Animals in literature
Animal psychology
Science and culture
Natural history
Gibbon, Edward
Herder, Johann Gottfried
Mead, George Herbert
Raynal, Guillaume
Robertson, William
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
17th century
16th century
18th century
Great Britain
United States
Paris (France)

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