Cultural scholar Susan McHugh co-edits new collection of human-animal studies essays

April 23, 2014

Susan McHugh

Humans are animals, and we live among other species of animals. From the beginning, we have always been and remain profoundly intertwined. 

Over the past three decades, human-animal studies have begun to take shape through the efforts of people working in a wide range of fields from anthropology to biology, from history to fine art, from psychology to media studies.

The Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies, co-edited by Susan McHugh, Ph.D., University of New England professor of English, and Garry Marvin, Ph.D., professor of human-animal studies at the University of Roehampton, presents a collection of original essays from artists and scholars who have established themselves internationally on the basis of their contributions to human-animal studies.

Humans over time have hunted wild animals; domesticated animals for food, clothing, transportation, and industry; brought them into our homes as pets; used them for scientific research; and more.

“All these are material uses of animals, but animals figure into human culture in more ways that are less tangible but no less profound,” the authors write. “In religious and other cosmological systems, animals are revered and sometimes feared, worshipped and sacrificed. Animals are to be found in virtually all traditions of art and literature … where they are used to express complex ideas about being human and being animal, and the relationships negotiated around these conditions.”

McHugh and Marvin’s new book offers a broad interpretive account of the development and configurations of the field of human-animal studies across cultures, continents, and times through 21 essays and an introduction.

Reviews

In a review of the book, Philip Howell of Cambridge University writes: “A new and necessary survey of a rapidly evolving field, this marvelous collection succeeds in being inviting as well as authoritative; taking on the challenge of reconceptualising the wild, the domesticated and the feral, these exceptional essays amply demonstrate Marvin and McHugh’s conviction that the question of how we live with animals is fundamental to how we live with ourselves.”

Donna Haraway, author of When Species Meet, describes the book as “both a great read and a provocation to rendering each other capable of knowing entangled human and animal worldings better. The diverse essays are unsettling and enticing. … The Handbook layers the kind of compost that can remix the wastes and resources of post-humanism into something more nourishing for these times of excess death and still possible resilience."

Susan McHugh

Professor McHugh, who is also chair of UNE’s Department of English, has focused her research and teaching on literary, visual, and scientific stories of cross-species life.

McHugh explains that her work on the Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies “is incredibly meaningful to me, and not just because it gathers together excellent original work by scholars and artists in the field that I have been committed to growing ever since graduate school.  The same month that we signed the contract for the book, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma.  For me, working on this project initially provided a much-needed diversion in the chemo chair, radiation therapy, then the anxious wait for a clean bill of health.  It is positively thrilling to see it in print ― and on schedule!―and I'm deeply grateful to my co-editor and our contributors for accompanying me on this incredible journey back to ordinary life. “

McHugh is also the author of Animal Stories: Narrating across Species Lines(Minnesota, 2011), as well as Dog (Reaktion, 2004), along with dozens of essays and reviews.

She serves as managing editor of the Humanities for Society & Animals, and she is a board member of the Animals & Society Institute, Animal Studies Journal, Antennae, H-Animal Discussion Network, Environment and History, and Humanimalia: A Journal of Human-Animal Interface Studies.

Also a cover model for the Routledge Handbook of Human-Animal Studies, McHugh loves life on the edge of the Great North Woods in Maine with canine companion Sabine (with McHugh on the cover) and artist Mik Morrisey (who is the cover image’s photographer).