Speaking Animals: Literature and Interspecies Relations (EAS3411)

StaffProfessor Jane Spencer - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module invites you to consider the ways the linguistic art of literature makes non-human animals speak, and to think about the purposes and effect of such speech. It will encourage you to analyse a wide range of texts --  fable, drama, poetry and novels – to investigate their representation of the relation between animal and human, and to consider what it is that non-human animal  figures allow writers to express. It will introduce you to the rich cultural histories of particular animal species. You will develop an understanding of how the debate about non-human animals’ status, capacities, significance, and rights has developed in different historical periods, and will consider the ethics of our relationship with non-human animals. You will engage critically with the emergent field of animal studies and the related field of ecocriticism, and consider the challenges they  poses to traditional understandings of human—animal relations.

The two-hour seminar will be devoted to detailed discussion of that week’s text(s), and will include student group presentations (non-assessed) in the second half of term.The third hour each week will be devoted to a workshop, and will feature the tutor’s introduction to key materials and debates, followed by discussion. 

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Demonstrate an informed appreciation of the literary uses made of animals in selected ancient texts and in Anglophone literature from the 16th century to the present day
  • 2. demonstrate an informed understanding of the major ways in which animals and human-animal relationships are conceptualized within Western thought;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. demonstrate an advanced ability to analyse the literature of different periods and relate its concerns and modes of expression to its cultural, historical and philosophical contexts
  • 4. Demonstrate an advanced ability to interrelate texts specific to your own discipline with issues in the wider context of cultural and intellectual history

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 5. through seminar work and group presentations, demonstrate communication skills, and an ability to work critically and imaginatively both individually and in groups;
  • 6. through essay-writing, demonstrate appropriate research and bibliographic skills, a capacity to construct a coherent, substantiated argument, and a capacity to write clear and correct prose;
  • 7. through research for seminars, presentations and essays, demonstrate proficiency in information retrieval and analysis;
  • 8. through research, seminar discussion, preparation for presentations and essay writing demonstrate a capacity to question assumptions, to distinguish between fact and opinion, and to reflect critically on their own learning process

Syllabus plan

1. Introduction: How, when and why do animals speak?: Aesop, Fables  


 2. Animal Transformation: Ovid, Metamorphoses


 3. Transformed into an Ass : Apuleius, The Golden Ass; Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595)


4. The Horse’s Story: Anna Sewell, Black Beauty (1877)


5.  Ape and Human : Kafka, A Report for an Academy (1917); Ceridwen Dovey, Only the Animals (2014)


 6.  The Lives of Animals: J.M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello (2003) 


 7. The Nightingale’s Song: poems by Anne Finch, S.T. Coleridge, John Keats, and others


 8.  Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright: Yann Martel, The Life of Pi (2002)


 9. Man’s best friend: Jack London, The Call of the Wild (1903)


10. Woman’s best friend: Virginia Woolf, Flush (1933)


 11.  Closing remarks

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Guided independent70Seminar preparation (group)
Guided independent197Reading, research and assessment preparation

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Close analysis exercise151000 words1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay352000 words1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.
Essay503000 words1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:


Primary Texts

Aesop, Fables (World’s Classics)

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Apuleius, The Golden Ass (World’s Classics)

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream


Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

Franz Kafka, A Report for an Academy

Ceridwen Dovey, Only the Animals

Jack London, The Call of the Wild

Virginia Woolf, Flush

J. M. Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello

Yann Martel, Life of Pi


Selected Secondary Texts


Armstrong, Philip, What Animals Mean in the Fiction of Modernity (Routledge 2008)


Brown, Laura, Homeless Dogs and Melancholy Apes (Cornell 2010)


Haraway, Donna J When Species Meet (Minnesota 2007)


McHugh, Susan, Animal Stories: Narrating Across Species Lines (Minnesota 2011)


Payne, Mark, The Animal Part: Human and Other Animals in the Poetic Imagination (OUP 2010)

Rohman, Carrie, Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal (Columbia 2009)


Ryan, Derek, Animal Theory: A Critical Introduction (Edinburgh 2015)

Wolfe, Cary, ed, Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal (Minnesota 2003)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


ELE – College to provide hyperlink to appropriate pages

Available as distance learning?