Medieval Nonhumanisms: A Sketch of a Nonsystematic Approach to Medieval Animal Studies

Arts Building, Lecture Room 3
Thursday 26 April 2018 (17:00-18:00)

Speaker: Dr Karl Steel (Brooklyn College, CUNY)


Medieval philosophy, dominant social practices, and religious doctrine all argued that humans were the uniquely rational animal, and therefore the only ones possessing any direct moral considerability. These systems held that nonhumans were ultimately created to be nothing more than pests, tools, or food. While neat statements like these simplify writing histories of human/animal relations, the range of possibilities for medieval human/nonhuman relations could be much wider, so long as practices and thoughts were not tethered to any master system. Among the topics to be considered will be pets, feral children, and oysters, which were, from Plato to Diderot, the paradigmatic animal for imagining bare life.


Karl Steel is associate professor of English at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He has followed his first book, How to Make a Human: Animals and Violence in the Middle Ages (Ohio State University Press, 2011), most recently, with the chapter “Medieval” in the Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman and a study of the Friar’s Tale and animals in The Open-Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales. His next book, Medieval Nonhumanisms: Sympathy, Edibility, and Helplessness, will be with the University of Minnesota Press.