ACM Pedagogic Resources > ACM SAIL > 2012 Seminar > Seminar Group > Brian Caton

Brian Caton

Associate Professor of History
Luther College

I have a long-term research interest in the colonial (and to a limited extent precolonial) history of animal herders in India and more precisely in Punjab province. This requires developing a thorough understanding of the material environments in which herd animals lived, the purposes for which they were bred, and their relationships with humans (not limited to their legal owners). My recent investigations have focused on animal care and healing, and the narrative of the introduction of "scientific breeding" and veterinary medicine in the colonial context. This has required some reading into the history of the development of such areas of knowledge and practice in Britain (and to an extent Europe more broadly). My teaching load, which includes courses in East Asian, Middle Eastern, and environmental history, has ensured adequate reading in order to bring a broad international and intercultural sensibility to discussions that (noticeably in environmental history) can tend to imagine the United States as a closed system or the only system.

I have a long-standing research interest in the material and thus cultural and political character of the relationships between humans and domesticated animals, within specific historical contexts. Such work has been welcome in environmental history, and I am aware of the growing popularity of the more widely interdisciplinary field of animal studies. My research could be useful to scholars in that field. As my research interests begin to shift towards the history of colonial animal breeding and veterinary medicine, sustained work with scholars in animal studies can help me theorize and situate my work in a broader history of the ways humans have thought about and interacted with animals. Washington is an attractive location in which to carry out this work because of its resources at the Library of Congress, the several museums attached to the Smithsonian Institution, the library and facilities attached to the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the National Gallery of Art.

The place-based and cross-disciplinary nature of the Considering Animals Seminar would enhance my research and teaching. In terms of place, the Library of Congress has one of the most extensive archives in the United States of government documents that were printed in British India, Great Britain, and the United States. This archive would provide the most immediately useful data for my research, and they could provide documents that would serve my teaching purposes in a range of junior and senior level courses (including the Paideia II course proposed by our team). The Smithsonian museums' collections and archives, despite their focus on the United States, provide a wide range of documentary and material evidence that can shed light on the global history of breeding programs and veterinary history. The Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maryland would provide useful resources for an investigation into the global vision of veterinary medicine as an intellectual field and of veterinary medicine as taught in the United States. The National Gallery of Art would provide access to images that can open up discussions of cultural perceptions of animals, animal use, and care in ways well suited to the classroom. In terms of discipline, the seminar itself would be a model for the kind of interdisciplinary teaching we aspire to in Paideia II courses, and it would give our team an opportunity it otherwise would not have to develop a Paideia II course in the interdisciplinary field of animal studies.