A Brief Farewell!

I cannot believe the semester is already over! It seems like only last week we were sitting around the table for the first time introducing ourselves and looking at the syllabus with  perhaps a hint of fear at the thought of creating a weekly blog. Now look at us! I think we can say that, although we may not all be blog masters, we certainly have created some really great pages between or Deep History and Domestication blog and our animal research projects. After reading through everyone’s project, it seems clear to me that we all should be pretty proud of what we have accomplished in this class. Each animal was presented in a unique way, but in the end, all of the blogs did a phenomenal job at developing their specie’s domestication throughout history. And anyone with the slightest interest in domestication that stumbles across our main page is really in for a treat!

This class was remarkably different from any other that I have taken in college, but it has certainly been one of my favorites! I came into this course with almost zero knowledge about animal domestication or its history and now I feel like I could teach a full course on it.  It was truly phenomenal how much we were able to cover in such a short time together and it really is a shame that its coming to a close. I really enjoyed our discussions each week and I’m really glad to have met all of you guys. I wish you all the best in your future endeavors and hopefully our paths will cross a few more times, either at Tech or in the future.

Dr. Nelson, I cannot thank you enough for all the work you put into this course. You really made this class fun while encouraging us to push ourselves and learn new things. I can honestly say that I would never have even considered blogging before this class and now I might even go so far as to say I enjoy it! The readings and discussions that you set up each week opened my mind to so many new things that I will carry with me forever. I look forward to taking more classes with you in the future and I hope that you continue to offer this class as long as you are teaching. It really was an awesome class and I think that everyone should be given the chance to take it!

I will remember you all and this class for the rest of my life. It is astounding how domestication works its way into almost every subject and aspect of society, and I would never truly have known the all encompassing history of domestication without this class. I look forward to being able to expand my learning with this course as a basis, and I only hope that my future classes are half as great as this one.

Thanks to all of you for making this a memorable semester!

Rats and Mice: Scientific Heroes

After reading the Burt’s piece I can’t help but feel bad for rats. By doing what it is that they need to do to survive and reproduce, they have given themselves a reputation as evil, disgusting creatures. Many other species of animals have habits similar to or far worse than rats, but as the rats live in such close proximity to humans, they are the ones that we seek to destroy at all costs. They are almost like our roommates. It doesn’t matter who your roommate is, it is simply the fact that they are always around that makes them so bad. Many of the early reasons for hating the rat such as the filth and excessive reproduction were wrong or greatly exaggerated which sounds like the exact story you hear from someone who is angry at their roommate. Deep down they are just annoyed and tired of being around the person but in order to justify their anger to others they seek out things to explain why this person is so bad, whether it be made up or exaggerations of little things that occurred. The rat has just evolved to thrive around human habitation and as a result it is one of the most universally hated creatures today.

Although I do sympathize with rats and mice, it is hard to deny that they do pose problems to humans. They are known to carry diseases and disrupt food supplies among other things which are valid reasons to set up methods to remove them from close proximity to humans and to control their numbers. I think that our hatred of rats is a bit excessive and irrational in modern times as many of the diseases they can spread are curable, and better construction methods developed in recent history can do a decent job at keeping them out of our foodstuffs, but many people still see them as insatiable pests that must be destroyed. It seems to me that at some point we just have to live with the fact that rats and mice aren’t going anywhere and we might as well do our best to try to get along with our perpetual roommates.

The first stepping stone to getting along with our little mammalian enemies is likely their use in scientific research. As a biochemistry major many of the experiments that come up in my studies involve the use of mice and rats. Without these experiments, the creation of drugs and treatments to cure the most threatening diseases for humans in the past and today would be far fewer. Their similarities to humans in structure and genetic makeup along with their small size and quick reproduction make them prime candidates for testing different methods of curing and/or preventing diseases in humans. It is by no means a perfect system as in many cases the effects in mice and rats are different than in humans but it is better than no testing at all. In the Shapiro reading, there was a lot of discussion about the use of laboratory animals that highlighted the negative aspects of experimenting with animals. I was not particularly fond of a lot of the arguments presented in this piece. I love animals, always have, and whether it is my dog or a mouse that we find cleaning the garage or a tiger at the zoo, I hate seeing animals hurt in any way from physical damage or separation from their families or torment by some curious toddler.  However, I have come to realize that in some cases, in order to benefit our own human species, some animals, often mice and rats, have to take the bullet. As much as I don’t want to see a mouse injected with a deadly virus or cancer, if that mouse helps to find the cure for someone’s ailing relative, I think it is usually worth it despite being very unfair. Shapiro seems to be saying that what we are doing with animals is largely without any real benefit scientifically, at least in the cases he discusses, and argues that laboratory animals are treated like machines, using the terms deindividualated, despecified, and deanimalized. I think that the cases he uses to argue his points are poor representations of animal research as a whole, and I feel that he is swaying data to prove points that don’t have a lot of validation. I understand that animals cooped up in cages by themselves are not in the best conditions, but they are not treated like machines. There are people who care for and feed the mice on a daily basis who genuinely care for the animals in most cases. Even knowing that the end result for many of them is likely death, they still want them to live comfortably for as long as possible. I have talked to many people who have worked with mice in their research and they all do their best to keep the animals as happy and comfortable as is possible in their experimental circumstances. I know they are arguably not as happy as their wild counterparts, but that is a small price to pay to save human lives. I am all for any new methods that will improve the conditions for lab animals, but I think that their importance to scientific research justifies their use.

Especially in the case of rats and mice, I find it hard to comprehend how people can despise a creature like a rat and go to great lengths to kill them whether it is with traps or poisons, but then as soon as they hear that a lab rat is being kept in a cage and injected with a virus to test out a new treatment it is inhumane. Humans have spent their history trying to destroy the rat because it was foul and useless to us but now that they can be helpful before they are killed, it is somehow crueler than murdering them by the thousands in the wild. All in all, I do feel for the animals that give their lives to science, but contradictory to Shapiro’s arguments, I think they are dying for a noble cause and greatly advancing modern science. They are saving more and more lives every day and should be considered heroes for giving their lives to do so. Anyway that was a bit of a rant that is heavily influenced by my scientific background and hopefully I didn’t set anyone off haha. And just to cover my tail I would like the record to show that I LOVE MICE AND RATS! And all animals for that matter…except for spiders maybe.


I look forward to reading all of your blogs and discussing these readings on Tuesday. See you all then!

Thoughts on the Darwin Discussion

I think we had a really good session today and covered quite a range of topics. Not often do string theory and Korean politics get tied into a conversation about domestication but somehow we found a way. I feel like there was so much more to cover but you can only do so much in an hour and fifty minutes I guess. Anyways, I just wanted to see if I can get a post onto the mother blog to make sure whatever glitch happened on Sunday is fixed. See you guys next Tuesday.

Charles Darwin, Evolution, and Civilization

Charles Darwin has always been an iconic figure for me. His studies and conclusions have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. Along with Louis Pasteur as I mentioned in my last post, Darwin is among the scientists that really led me to pursue studies in the field of science. Perhaps the great beards have something to do with my appreciation for this pair, but the real reason that I like these guys is their complete dedication to their work and their major contributions to the field of science as a whole. No matter what it is that you want to be when you grow up, you will run across these names and I think that speaks volumes to their importance to mankind.


Now that I have given that little background tidbit, I will attempt to bring up the interesting points from the excerpts from Darwin’s The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication and Brantz The Domestication of Empire without too much bias hopefully. Overall, both readings were pretty good. I particularly liked reading Darwin, for reasons previously stated, but also because the ideas he discussed are so far ahead of his time in my mind. He made some very profound arguments with very little previous scientific discovery in the field of his studies. It is truly baffling to me how an idea like natural selection could be so soundly described without any knowledge of DNA or genes. Even though we have obviously proven that some of his ideas, especially pangenesis, were not quite right, there was a great deal of truth to many of his hypotheses that are still accepted today.

In regards to The Domestication of Empire, Brantz did a really great job of highlighting the trends of civilization and evolution and how they influenced each other. I still am taken aback by how much domestication has influenced all aspects of our lives, and I really liked how the trend of civilization kind of blended with evolutionary studies to explain some of these influences. In addition, I must confess that I was left with a feeling of human selfishness after reading through this excerpt. It seemed that every new subject that was brought up whether it was the keeping of pets, or the development of animal protections, or the creation of zoos was, at its core, done primarily for human advancement. I will make this opinion more clear later in some of the questions that I came up with from this reading.

Here are some questions that we can use to get the discussion going for Tuesday. Please feel free to comment on them here or just think them over before we get together.

Darwin remarks that “Man has no power of altering the absolute conditions of life, he cannot change the climate of any country, he adds no new element to the soil…” and he then goes on to say that it is an error to speak of man “tampering with nature”. Does this statement still hold true today? Has man evolved to the point where we now have the capability to control many aspects of nature or are we still at the mercy of nature? We have altered climates with pollution and added fertilizers to soil and are in the process of being able to prevent natural disasters like hurricanes. Would Darwin still argue that man cannot tamper with nature?

Darwin suggests that the natural change that organisms experience is analogous to that which humans are causing, meaning man can only use the variations which nature brings about to shape domesticated animals. With things like genetic engineering we are now able to take a bioluminescence gene from a lightning bug, and create a glowing mouse. Is this something that nature would be capable of? Or is the fact that nature provided the gene in the first place still in support of the idea that man is only able to use what nature provides? And in relation to this, is man or nature more efficient at creating new species. Is man more efficient at using variations in animals to make new sub species or even new species all together because of the speed by which we are able to breed animals for a specific trait, or does natures method of survival of the fittest still provide the gold standard for evolution? Has man eclipsed natures evolutionary abilities, or are we still far behind creating new species as efficiently as nature?

Whether by nature or by man, everything from plants to animals to bacteria is constantly evolving. As soon as it seems that an organism is perfectly suited to its environment, its prey or predators get a slight edge, and the species must evolve once more. Do you think that a perfect species could ever be created? Or does the constant battle of organisms to adapt to changing environments prevent this from happening?

Are humans the exception to the rule of natural selection? Can weak individuals thrive in our current society, and can  the strong fail? Is the human race always getting better, or does the fact that the average lifespan of this generation is predicted to be less than that of the last evidence that we are declining? Darwin describes a point at which simple organisms halt development for an indefinite amount of time due to a fit with the simpler conditions of life. He mentions that “members of a high group might even become…fitted for simpler conditions of life; and in this case natural selection would tend to simplify or degrade the organization, for complicated mechanism for simple actions would be useless or even disadvantageous.” Could humans be undergoing some sort of degradation due to natural selection? Or does this idea not apply to the downturn, if one exists, in human evolution?

An entire portion of Darwin’s work was devoted to the study of pigeons. He discusses the many variations that exist between pigeons and how each of these traits has been altered by humans to create the hundreds of sub species of pigeons today. How long can pigeons continue to be altered like this? Is there a stopping point where a species can’t change further without being infertile or sickly? Or do they just change to the point that they become a new species altogether? Is human intervention resulting in the evolution or devolution of species like the pigeon? Do methodical and and unconscious selection actually hamper an animals fitness, or ability to succeed and reproduce, in many cases?

Darwin presents some very interesting examples of artificial and natural selection working hand in hand. For example, he describes a species of pig in which black pigs are immune to a disease caused by a type of root that they eat while lighter colored pigs get sick. As a result humans select for black pigs artificially. Do situations like this, where artificial and natural selection work together result in “super animals” that would not have evolved without the combination of humans and nature?

What is everyone’s opinion on Darwin’s idea of Pangenesis? Obviously, we know today that this is not the method by which reproduction and development occurs; however his method has many similarities to what actually happens. Do you think that his ideas in this book led to the actual discovery of our accepted theory today and does Darwin deserve credit for this? It really doesn’t seem to be too much of a jump to get from what Darwin proposes to what we know today.

In The Domestication of Empire, it says that “while evolution brings humans and animals closer together biologically, the concept of civilization drives them further apart socioculturally and intellectually…”. Do you agree with this statement? I struggled with this idea initially but after reading the entire excerpt, I found myself more in agreement. Evolution really ties us all together, and the process of civilization does seem to place humans on a pedestal above everything else.

What would civilization be like without domestication? Domestication has influenced everything in our lives from hierarchy to food production to transportation and I can’t help but wonder what things would be like if humans hadn’t taken those first steps toward domestication. How would things be different? Is it even plausible that domestication could have not happened? Was it predestined to happen?

It was mentioned that domestication has its roots in the word “domus” meaning home. I found this to be pretty interesting because it makes sense when you think about the origin of the home. The home kind of develops from domestication because previous to the domestication of plant and animals people were nomadic and never really had a place to call home. After domestication however, people were able to settle down and call their place home for once. I guess this is more of an interesting thought than a question but we could discuss whether or not the idea of the home really does come from domestication.

There was a lot of discussion of pets by Brantz which led into all sorts of topics from the cat vs. dog debate to dressing up animals to animal protection. All of these ideas presented some really cool information for us to discuss but since this blog is getting a little bit lengthy I will just ask a few questions and we can dig into the further in class.

Do you think that people dressing up their animals and grooming them has an effect on the animal? 

Is the root of animal protection really just human selfishness, in that humans only protect animals to the extent that they are beneficial to us?

Why do humans have such a strong desire for exotic pets?

Three groups of animals are mentioned in the reading: animals as servants, animals as children, and animals families as human families. Do these same divisions still exist today or are there more or less?

Are zoos a good or a bad thing?

Can domestication be viewed as an improvement of animals as Cuvier suggests?

Well there are some questions and ideas to chew on for the next couple of days. I look forward to hearing what you all have to say in the comments and on Tuesday!


Horses and Donkeys: Past to Present

Anthonys’ and Bulliets’ discussions of horses and donkeys paths to domestication really help to show the drastically different ways that animals come to be domesticated. Before this class, I viewed the domestication of animals as a sort of set in stone process that all animals followed to lose their wild instincts and aid humans, but throughout our readings it has become very evident that every animal has its own unique journey. It is truly astounding how some animals have worked their way into our lives as are the cases with both the horse and the donkey. For the horse it seems that it was simple as favorable winter eating habits while for the donkey it boils down to being well endowed. Such simple behaviors and attributes have led to societies that revolve around these animals in all aspects of their lives. It is hard to imagine how much history would be changed if these beasts of burden hadn’t pawed through the ice to get a drink of water on a cold winter day.

Even more relevant to me were all of the different methods that anthropologists make use of to obtain all the data we have on these domestication processes. The creativity they use to come up with answers is phenomenal. I pride them in continuing to press on with new methods and discoveries when they well know that many of the questions they are asking will never have definitive answers. No matter how much we look at the evidence of early domestication, short of time travel, we can never be certain exactly what happened; yet day in and day out these individuals head in to work and continue to try. I hope that I can be that interested and driven in my future endeavors. This was a bit of a side note but I couldn’t help but mention it just to see if any one else found this interesting. Anyways back to the blog.

Both Anthony and Bulliet’s accounts drew me in, but I must admit that it was the story of the donkey that I  found most interesting. I know we have all been very hard on Bulliet and Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers but I did find his ideas on the domestication of donkeys to be interesting. Bulliet’s discussion of the development of the donkey throughout its history with humans shed a light on a side of the donkey that I was not familiar with. I have always associated the donkey with simplicity and farm life but all of the religious and sexual ties were new to me. The donkeys ties with sex and religion do provide an answer to the reason for the donkeys initial domestication which I must admit always puzzled me. The donkey never really provided the things that other domesticated species did, such as milk or meat. Also, it didn’t seem to me that the donkey could have been domesticated solely for its use as a beast of burden, as other animals that have additional uses could have filled this role. However, sex is a powerful force throughout human history, and it does not take a stretch of the imagination to see how any animal with such strong sexual ties could slowly be incorporated into human society. Sadly, it seems that the donkey has been on a steady decline throughout its history, and regardless of the validity of Bulliets arguments, it is a very good example of how domesticated animals slowly become objectified as their purpose shifts from affective uses to material ones.

In addition, as I mentioned in my last post, I really like learning about word and phrase origins. Bulliet had some very unique explanations for the origins of many of the different terms that developed around the “ass”. It is really cool to learn where words that pop up without a second thought everyday really come from. The next time I hear someone called a dumb ass it will bring a much different picture to mind. Also the whole development of the “dunce cap” finally explained how such a seemingly strange punishment came to be. It was great to add a couple more things to my bag of useless fun facts!

I thought these readings opened up a lot of new discussion topics, as well as built up many of the past thoughts we have discussed. I look forward to reading everyone’s posts and hearing what you all have to say on Tuesday.


Goats: The History of Everything

Kessler’s journey from the suburbs to a life revolving around a small flock of goats was truly astonishing. I have had very little experience with farms in my lifetime as I have mentioned in past blogs, which made this account especially eye-opening for me. I have always lived with the story book idea of a farm being a simple happy place where plants and animals and people all live in harmony. Over time I came to understand that it wasn’t quite so simple but I never really knew anymore than the fact that farm work is often hard work. After reading Kessler’s account in Goat Song I got a small taste of what life really is like on a farm today. As I was reading, I felt like I was taking the same journey as him, minus the fact that he did all the work and I never left the couch. It really sparked my interest and I must say I got sucked into to the day to day happenings and the well-being of Lizzie, Hannah, Nisa, Pie, Penny, Eustace Tilley and the other kids, neighboring animals, and Lola.

Kessler did a phenomenal job weaving together his experiences on his farm with historical information, facts, and ideas. I really enjoyed the small breaks from his story to explain the origins of various words, or describe a cheese-making process or recipe, or tell another side story related to the happenings of his own life. It really kept me interested in the story and broadened my knowledge in ways that I would not have expected from a book about goats.

The whole process of caring for and raising a herd of goats was unbelievable. The amount of work that was put in from the initial selection of a few individuals, to breeding, to milking, not to mention all the care-taking duties really explains the term kid for baby goats. It was like having kids! It is a 24/7 job that encompasses joy and love and fear and sorrow and so much more. As I started getting into the book, I began to get a feeling that it might be a lot of fun to have a couple of goats of my own, but the more I read the more I realized that I have enough difficulty taking care of myself that to throw on the many responsibilities and tasks of just a couple goats would be an impossible mission. But the feelings Kessler describes through the process make the whole journey seem very appealing, even with all of the hard-work involved.

Throughout the reading, there were many subjects that caught my attention and peaked my interest. The many explanations for the origins of words and terms we use today were especially appealing to me. I have always loved learning where some strange phrase or term we have comes from, and Kessler seems to share my interest. I did not realize how much of our language can be attributed to goats and early pastoral societies. From words like scapegoat and panic to the letters of our alphabet, goats and the lifestyles surrounding them have played a significant role in our communication to this day. I have always wondered exactly where a word like scapegoat originated, and after explaining the background of the historical feelings towards goat, which seemed very negative at times, and their sexual habits and ties to the devil and of their being cast out into the wilderness, terms like scapegoat and panic make a lot of sense. In addition, I found Kessler’s discussion on the biochemistry of cheese to be really intriguing. I have never really been a fan of cheese, and have never looked into the different processes used to make the large variety of cheeses we have today, but after reading the section on all of the organisms and compounds involved in the art of cheese making, I can’t help but get  drawn in. I had never even considered how the diets, lifestyles, and surroundings of an animal would play into the end cheese product. Cheese was cheese to me, but now I can’t help but picture all the little grasses and bacteria that went into each slice. Cheese is like a snowflake; no two pieces are alike. I definitely plan to read more on the art of cheese-making.

Kessler also managed to weave in a few references that tie into our discussions of domestication. He touched on the idea of haves and have-nots briefly at one point, and I couldn’t help but see the connection to Jared Diamonds central theory in Guns, Germs, and Steel. In addition, he hits on what it was that made certain animals susceptible to human domestication, while others were not. Amongst other reasons, he mentions dominance hierarchies, diet, and flight response, all of which were central to Diamonds’ ideas. I don’t know if he borrowed these ideas from Diamond or from some other source, but it is very interesting to see how all of our readings seem to tie together when they seem so different on the surface.

There are so many great topics to discuss in this book, but I will save the rest for Tuesday’s meeting. I hope the rest of you enjoyed this book as well and I look forward to hearing what everyone else has to say!


The Mysteries of Evolution: From Dogs to Us

This weeks readings provided interesting insights on the many mysteries that surround the evolution of dogs as well as on our feelings in regards to our own evolution. I really enjoyed both articles and felt that each presented some very valid arguments in addition to posing some thought provoking questions.  I felt like How the Dog Became the Dog by Derr and Zuk’s article Misguided Nostalgia for Our Paleo Past tied together well in many aspects in relation to the complexities of evolution.

In How the Dog Became the Dog, Derr did a great job of presenting the evolution of the wolf to the dog using a variety of evidence from a multitude of different fields of study. He was able to combine the many archaeological findings with all the information on modern species to disprove some of the less fact based theories on how dogs came to be, and in doing so created a lose timeline of how and where the dog originated. Central to his theory is the idea that there are significant overlaps, both in genotype and phenotype, between the stages from the wolf to the dog. I thought this was a very logical way to look at evolution, and it stuck me as strange that this idea wasn’t really a significant part of any of the other readings we have done. Evolution is a very gradual process (in many cases but not all as we saw in Misguided Nostalgia) and it doesn’t make any sense to think of things as black and white, or in this case wolf and dog. There is always a gray, or dogwolf, area in between that is so often overlooked, and Derr picked up on this and used it as the backbone for developing his opinion of the origins of the dog.

In addition, in How the Dog Became the Dog, there was a reference to Buffon’s opinion that species tend to degenerate, not improve, from the parent form. I can see how the argument could be made because in many cases animals in captivity do lose some of the skills that made their ancestors more capable of survival in the wild. For example, the more wolf-like dogs are arguably more capable of survival than the little hairball lap dogs that are common today. But when I began to think about it, the only other examples of degeneracy that came to mind were of domesticated species. In the wild all species seem  to improve, likely due to the pressures of natural selection and survival of the fittest, which, to some extent deflates Buffon’s argument. However, in Misguided Nostalgia, Zuk talked about how we long for the past because we feel like times were better, but in you assume that this feeling was common in people throughout history, you eventually end up back as a single-celled organism. This idea would support Buffon as it suggests that we have slowly degenerated from that first single-celled organism that leads to what we are today. I guess where I am going with this topic is, is there some validity to Buffon’s theory that animals degenerate from the parent form or is there enough evidence in the study of wild animals evolution to disprove him?

Finally, in Misguided Nostalgia, Zuk brings up another interesting question when she mentions that there is an idea floating around that the relative isolation of countries like those in Africa from other places like North America may be leading to evolutionary developments in two separate directions. If this truly is occurring, which is very much up for debate, then we could potentially develop subspecies of humans, just like when a species of animal gets separated from its kin and develops differently as a result. What would be the result of a series of subspecies of humans? Would it result in the development of more capable humans, and if so would this result in the inferiority, or collapse, of the other species? Is speciation even possible in humans with all of the global connection that exists? Let me know what you think!


Divination or Déjà vu?

This weeks reading from Vitebsky’s The Reindeer People falls into a slightly different category from the other pieces we have covered so far this semester. It wasn’t a compilation of research and studies that were constructed into a foundation for some overarching idea about the origins and definition of domestication like we saw with Diamond and Bulliet. It was simply a story. Vitebsky discovered a group of extraordinary people who were so unique from the everyday masses, and he set out to tell their tale. He definitely has his own opinions and theories weaved into the web that is the reindeer people’s lifebut for the most part he allows his experiences to speak for themselves. As a result, I found it very easy to just sit back and enjoy myself while I read about the Eveny and their exceptional way of life.

There were a plethora of intriguing ideas throughout the portions of this book that we covered, but, for the sake of a post that is shorter than the work itself, I decided to focus on just one of these topics. I thought it was fascinating how the Eveny people placed so much value and faith in the actions of animals, both wild and domestic. The concept of Bayanay and of the close spiritual connection of the people and the animals and the land and even possessions like knives and guns seemed like such a foreign idea to me at first glance. However, as I continued reading I began to see many parallels between the Eveny’s cultural ideas and our own. This may seem like a strange connection at first but I will do my best to explain myself.

The first interesting overlap that hit me was in connection to our modern cinema. The whole idea of Bayanay and ever-present spirits is very similar to the views of the Na’vi people of Pandora in the movie Avatar. I thought this was a very interesting connection because in the movie the idea of our “connected-ness” to nature was portrayed a strange and foreign, yet the Eveny people are an example of human beings who have extremely similar views on nature. As I compared the movie and the book, I began to see so many similarities between the two that I started to wonder if maybe Vitebsky and James Cameron had gotten together at some point wrote the movie together haha. I won’t go into too much detail about it all because I feel like I am straying off topic, but just to provide some examples; the mining of unobtainium on Pandora vs. the mining of precious metals by Russian miners in the Eveny territories of Siberia, the close ties of people to animals which is taken so far as to be a literal connection between the Na’vi and the species of Pandora when they intertwine their braids with the animals the are riding, and the pressures of invading individuals on maintaining an established culture (communist Russians for the Eveny and humans for the Na’vi).

Another interesting thought I had had to do with the Eveny use of reading into animal symbols to see the future. There were many examples throughout the text of Eveny people  seeing strange behaviors of animals as omens for things to come. For example, Kesha tells a story of a swan landing on a lake in front of him when he was out hunting one day which he later took to symbolize that he would meet his wife Lyuda. At the time, there was no way that Kesha could have known what the strange swan sighting was meant to symbolize, if anything at all, but it so happened that an event in the future (the meeting of his future wife Lyuda) made the symbolism of the swan evident. I couldn’t help but think of a fortune cookie when I read this story. A fortune cookie is a seemingly meaningless phrase at first, but as the future unfolds, an event often occurs that seems to validate the fortune. For example, you might get a fortune that says “A pleasant surprise is in store for you” which makes no sense until your old friend from grade school surprises you with a visit a couple weeks later. This struck me because it shows a sort of similarity between our culture and that of the Eveny people, when on the surface there doesn’t seem to be anything even remotely similar between the two groups lifestyles. I continued to think about this concept and a thought provoking question hit me. Do these animal signs and fortunes that we come across in everyday life cause us to act different subconsciously as a means of fulfilling whatever it is that we think the sign represents? Or to word it another way, do we make different choices than we might normally have because we have a lingering feeling in the back of our heads from the strange swan we saw or open-ended fortune we read last week? In relation to the book, there is a story about a girl, I can’t remember her name at the moment, who finds an Eveny knife and is told by those around her that she has actually found a husband because the knife often symbolizes this. It turns out that she does end up marrying an Eveny man in the future. To tie this into my question, does the fact that she found an Eveny knife make her more likely to give Eveny men more of a chance in the future, while at the same time blocking out attempts by Russian or Sakha men? I suppose this wasn’t really the type of question Vitebsky was trying to get us to ask but I thought it might be an interesting discussion all the same.

The last two parallels that I thought of between us and the Eveny peoples had to do with their ability to see the future in dreams and their lack of telling people about a good omen in a dream for fear that it won’t come true. In relation to the first parallel, I think that the ability to see the future in a very ambiguous form, like in Varya’s story about how she dreamt that she was walking next to a river in a strange place with her sister-in-law making a garland of flowers which ended up coming true when she was brought to see her dead brother, could be described in our society as déjà vu. The idea that you have already experienced the present at some point in the past happens to many people, and this may be what Varya is describing here. Maybe we all have some deep connection with nature and the Eveny people have just realized it to a larger extent than others which has led them to their different way of life. Finally, my second parallel about the fear of spoiling a good omen seems to relate to the idea we have about not “jinxing” things. In a conversation Vitebsky had with one of his many Eveny friends, the idea of keeping a good omen secret until it comes to pass is brought up. Vitebsky is told that telling someone else of a good omen will cause it not to come true. This is similar to when someone today predicts a positive outcome and is told “Don’t jinx it!” No matter whether you live in a cabin in Siberia or an apartment in Blacksburg, there is a natural fear of spoiling a good thing by voicing it too early. Are we all subconsciously worried that we will offend Bayanay if we get too cocky?

Well, I may have gotten a little carried away there and I apologize if I swayed off of the domestication topic, but I think we have all come to realize that nothing is really too far off the mark in this class, haha. To summarize the meanderings above, I just think that maybe at heart, we really aren’t all that different from the Eveny people, we just have a different way of explaining natures phenomena.

Finding Common Ground

Over the past few weeks it has become very evident to me that to give domestication a singular definition is nearly impossible. Every week we read another anthropologist’s or philosopher’s or historian’s account of the history of human-animal relations and each one is distinctly unique from the others. Week after week I find in each new perspective, a series of compelling ideas different from the previous week, which in turn sways my opinions and ideas on the matter. I always end up feeling like at the end of our discussions I am close to finding the answer to and ending the debate on human-animal relations once and for all; but then I pick up the reading for the next week and I am back to square one again. It creates a combination of frustration and intrigue in me. It is frustrating how something that seems so simple at first glance can have so much controversy surrounding it, but then in the same vein, all of these different ideas are new and intriguing and force me to pick up the reading for the next week to try to learn more!

To tie this little rant to our readings for the week, I will discuss Ingold’s article From Trust to Dominion. I think that of all the articles we have read, I agree, or rather sympathize most with Ingold’s. And it is not because I think his ideas are the most accurate that we have read, or because he has the best evidence for his arguments; it is simply because he takes the ideas of so many other people and ties them together into one central idea. This is not to say that the other pieces we have read didn’t incorporate others’ ideas into their works because they did. I just think that Ingold pulls ideas from such a diverse variety of people on either end of the spectrum and sows them together into one simple, coherent point better than the other works we have read, or watched, thus far.

I think he understands that there are so many different views on human-animal relations, that to try to create an all-encompassing opinion on the matter is futile. Instead, he looked into a series of other studies and notions and drew out a common theme that was hidden in all of them, whether their authors knew it or not. This hit home with me because I realized that I have been going about this course the wrong way. I have been taking each separate article as its own entity to a large extent, when what I really should be doing to understand human-animal relations is to look for the common ground between each piece. Only through comparisons and contrasts of the many feelings out there on the subject can we hope to get any closer to answering the great questions of human-animal relations.

I may be way off in my views here, and if so feel free to correct me. It just felt different reading Ingold’s article to me and this was my shot at trying to explain that feeling. But anyways Ingold’s article was only a small piece of what we read this week and I feel like I should at least touch on Animals as Domesticates and Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers.

In Animals as Domesticates, I really liked the timeline that they provided throughout. It was helpful to see a logical time frame presenting when each animal was domesticated in relation to when others were and also in terms of what the climate of the earth was like when things were occurring. Also I thought Clutton-Brock’s discussion on why wolves were the first domesticated animal made a lot of sense. They are very similar to us in many aspects such as the hierarchical structure of the packs and the acceptance of dominance as well as in their ability to survive in a diversity of habitats. These facts combined with their ability to work together with humans for mutually beneficial hunts make a very strong case for why dogs are likely the first truly domesticated species. In addition, I think it is crazy how much information they can come up with from carbon dating techniques and bone analysis. I have always known that you can learn a lot about the past using these techniques but when they were able to show that a bear was domesticated based on a marking caused by a rope in its jaw, I was very impressed. Maybe after a few more centuries of findings like this we will be able to piece together a much more accurate timeline of human-animal history.

Finally I just have a quick point about Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers. I hoped to get to this topic last Tuesday in discussion but there was just so much to talk about that there was no way to get to everything.  In watching the video about Guns, Germs and Steel, as well as through some of the other readings we have done, we have gained a pretty good idea of Diamonds ideas on the advent of domestication. In summary, he seemed to think that the process of the domestication of plants and animals happened together and as a result of one another. He had his theory that animals were domesticated shortly after the advent of agriculture for food at first but then quickly became used for everything from clothing to plowing the fields as beasts of burden. This contradicts rather strongly with Bulliet’s arguments in Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers. Bulliet suggests throughout his book, at least up to where I am at, that animals and plants were domesticated separately. His evidence includes how animals such as the dog were domesticated long before agriculture, as well as that animals such as horses and donkeys, which Diamond would argue were domesticated for work such as plowing fields, were not domesticated until thousands of years after the advent of agriculture. I thought both points had valid arguments; however, both ideas cannot be entirely correct. Who do you guys think is closest to the truth, or are they both right in some aspects and wrong in others? Just some food for thought!

Domestic, Postdomestic, Post-postdomestic?

Bulliet’s Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers is an interesting take on human-animal relationships that divides human history into four stages: Separation, Predomesticity, Domesticity, and Postdomesticity. He argues that separation is the period in history when humans first differentiated themselves from animals, leading to predomesticity. This period is simplified as the time when humans primary lifestyle consisted of hunting and gathering. Predomesticity turns into domesticity with the “Neolithic revolution,” which is essentially just a term the describes humans domesticating certain plants and animals. Finally this period of domestication, consisting of daily contact between humans and animals, evolves into postdomesticity, during which humans and animals are separated both physically and psychologically. Interestingly enough, postdomesticity seems to be most similar to the predomestic stage by Bulliet’s definition, suggesting a sort of cycle in human-animal relations.

In the first chapter, Bulliet presents some…. unique examples of the progression from domesticity to postdomesticity in his discussions of sex and blood. He ties in a variety of topics from bestiality and pornography to animal slaughter and gory movies, which at first glance seem to be very unlikely candidates for emphasizing the change of humans from a domestic society to a postdomestic one. However, he manages to show how in almost all of his examples that humans have changed from a society that was very hands on and involved in the many facets of life to one that is more disengaged and focused on fantasy. Whether it is our shift from boxing to wrestling or our removal from the slaughter of farm animals for food, humans have exhibited this change. The question that arises is what do these changes mean for humans-animal relations, especially pertaining to domestication.

Bulliet continues in the next few chapters to go into detail about the development and origins of each of the stages he created to cover the progression of human-animal relations over our entire existence as a species. As a result of this huge span of time he covers, the major issue that Bulliet runs into with this work is that the majority of the arguments that he makes are based almost solely on conjecture and educated guesswork. There is no way of truly knowing what early humans were thinking millions of years ago, and no way to pinpoint the specific dates when these changes that Bulliet claims define each stage actually occurred. However, the opinions in Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers are very strong despite the lack of any real factual basis. This leaves the door open for debate as to whether his opinions, although well founded, are accurate.

In respect to our discussion on Tuesday afternoon, here are a series of questions that are posed directly by Bulliet or extrapolated from the ideas that he presents in the first chapters of this book. These are some starting points for everyone to consider before we get together on Tuesday.

  • What are the major drawbacks or benefits that arise from children’s later exposure to  sex and blood? In the domestic era, a majority children grew up seeing animals lives firsthand from mating and birth to slaughter. In more recent history, children are   far more sheltered from these things for better or for worse. How does this effect the lives of these children as they grow up and develop into adulthood?
  • Many of the issues that Bulliet discusses in relation to the shift from domesticity to postdomesticity revolve around the movement of humans from direct, “real,” experiences to more withdrawn fantasy. How does this idea affect peoples views today?  Is this the cause of the major movements like vegetarianism and animal rights, or are these things completely separate? Is this a reversion back to the separation era that Bulliet describes?
  • The progression in the stages that Bulliet describes started out with very slow, ambiguous change from one to the next; however, the shift from domesticity to post domesticity occurred relatively quickly in the grand scheme of things. Is postdomesticity just another stage in Bulliet’s theory? Is there a post-postdomestic era to come? What will it entail? Will it be similar to predomesticity or domesticity or entirely new? How soon will it happen?
  • There were some very strong parallels drawn throughout the first four chapters, including the comparison of animal treatment and the meatpacking industry to the Holocaust as well as the animal rights issue to slavery and civil rights. Are these comparisons accurate? Are they acceptable?
  • The cornerstone of Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers is the separation between humans and animals. How separate are they? Has the degree of separation stayed relatively static or is it ever-changing? Does Bulliet accurately depict the separation of humans and animals throughout history?

These are just a few questions to consider and get the discussion going but I think there are a lot of other great ideas to debate. I look forward to Tuesday and cannot wait to hear everyone’s opinions on Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers.