Speaking Animals: Literature and Interspecies Relations (EAS3411)

StaffProfessor Jane Spencer - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
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 pose to traditional understandings of human-animal relations.

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 conceptualised 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

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

We will begin our study by considering how, when and why animals speak, using selected philosophy and theory as well as Aesop’s Fables. During the early weeks of the module we will consider animal transformations in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Apuleius’s The Golden Ass, and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Moving from donkeys to horses, we will consider the rise of the animal welfare movement in relation to Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. The relation between ape and human will be considered with reference to Kafka’s short story A Report for an Academy, and a response to Kafka in Ceridwen Dovey’s recent collection, Only the Animals; Dovey’s other stories will also be used to focus our discussions of animal narrators. We will consider the ethics of human treatment of animals through Dovey and through J.M. Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello. We will consider the relationship between poetry, poetic voice and animality through a reading of selected poems concerning the nightingale.

Our later seminars will focus on both on the wildness of animals, from the tiger in Martel’s Life of Pi to the wild call of wolf-nature heard by the dog in Jack London’s Call of the Wild, and on human relationships with companion animals, exemplified in the dog-love differently represented in Call of the Wild, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems to her pet dog, and Virginia Woolf’s playful animal biography, Flush. Throughout, we will weave discussion of relevant works of animal philosophy and theory together with our close reading of literary animals. During the module there will be a field trip to the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, where we will learn about the charity’s work and have the chance to enjoy some hands-on interspecies communication with one of the module’s central animals.

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
Scheduled learning and teaching11Workshops
Scheduled learning and teaching22Seminars
Guided independent study70Seminar preparation (group)
Guided independent study197Reading, 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
Group presentation2520 minutes1-5, 7-8Oral feedback by tutor in seminar supplemented by feedback sheet
Essay251500 words1-4, 6-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up
Essay503000 words1-5, 7-8Feedback sheet with opportunity for tutorial follow-up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Group presentationEssay (1500 words)1-4, 6-8Referral/Deferral period
Essay (1500 words)Essay (1500 words)1-4, 6-8Referral/Deferral period
Essay (3000 words)Essay (3000 words)1-4, 6-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - 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)

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Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

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