As humans, we belong to the animal kingdom, which comprises multicellular, eukaryotic organisms as varied as the mite, whale, and duck-billed platypus. Although as different in shape as they are in behavior, animals, like all life, branched from the same bushy tree. The links in the evolutionary chain of being, animals illuminate life’s ability to partition, evolve, and adapt and have inspired ecologists, zoologists, and geneticists whose work helps us understand our origins and wondrous ways of survival. Engineers design buildings and robotic arms that are as energy-efficient as termite mounds and as flexible as elephant trunks. Integral to our economy, animals are farmed for consumption and sale and bred and reared as pets or “children.”
Animals are also deeply symbolic and have pervaded human culture since the first pig was painted on a cave wall 35,000 years ago. Medieval bestiaries and modern-day cartoons star Christ-like creatures that impart morals while aardvarks, bumblebees, and crocodiles represent the ABCs for beginning readers. Animals are our words, totems, gods, and constellations, and sometimes, from the shadows of the imagination, a monster as mysterious and allusive as Bigfoot emerges, and despite the absence of evidence, we believe it is real. Thus, in our attempts to understand animals– fictional, real, living, or extinct– it is important to acknowledge we are attempting to understand ourselves.
Throughout this course, we will explore the various aspects of the animal through a variety of exercises, mediums, and literary genres ranging from experiential learning to documentaries and plays to poetry, creative nonfiction, and research-based scholarly articles. Through critical, in-depth study of the material, students will build on and advance thinking, reading, and writing skills for the university and beyond.