University of Erfurt

Projekt von Andrew John Wells

A Natural History of Ideas: Everyday Human- Animal Interactions and Intellectual Life in Urban Europe, 1600-1800

This research project is a study of the use of animals as evidence in early modern ideas. It traces the textual sources and personal interactions of thinkers with animals (particularly in an urban setting) that provided the analogies and anecdotes on which authors relied to communicate their thought. By exploring fields such as natural law, economics, political theory, and natural history, the project integrates intellectual and animal history in a novel and revealing way. Scholars have so far focused their efforts in this area on understanding ideas that were specifically about animals, such as Descartes’ thinking on animal automata. Less studied has been the mobilisation of the natural and animal world for understanding ideas that might, at least initially, be seen to have little to do with non-human creatures. But when Bernard Mandeville (for example) chose the image of a ‘grumbling hive’ to expound his economic thought, he did so fully conscious of the popular image of bees and their quiet but productive industry. The project follows two strands, looking at the use and sources of animal evidence, and demonstrates that animals played a far more fundamental, influential, and independent role in human intellectual life than previously thought.


Andrew Wells was Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter at the University of Göttingen (2013-2017) and Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (2011-2013). He has held teaching and research posts at the University of Edinburgh and will shortly take up an Alfried Krupp Junior Fellowship at the University of Greifswald (2018-2019). He is a cultural and intellectual historian of race, slavery, freedom, the city, and animals, and is completing a Habilitation project on the urban history of freedom in the British Atlantic world. He has published in a number of journals and edited collections and is the co-editor (with Dr Sarah Cockram, University of Edinburgh) of Interspecies Interactions: Animals and Humans between the Middle Ages and Modernity (Routledge, 2018).



User menu and language choice