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Professor Dr Mieke Roscher Evaluating historical sources in a new way

Professor Roscher, you have been the junior professor for social and cultural history at the University of Kassel since last October and you are conducting research in the LOEWE cluster known as “Animals - Human – Society”. Why are you so interested in animal-human relationships? This is a tremendously exciting field, particularly from a historical perspective, because a paradigm shift is taking place at the moment: traditionally we have assumed that humans alone have been the key driving force in shaping history as the main subjects. Animals had a role as objects, whether as domesticated pets, farm animals or, for example, as mythological beings. However, experts have been increasingly accepting the view since the beginning of this century that humans and animals developed together in the sense of cultural co-evolution and animals should also be viewed as active partners in shaping history. This may sound rather absurd at first, but if you examine the matter more closely, you very quickly see that this change of perspective enables us to raise new questions and gain new insights into human societies. For example, how does a real animal relate to the collective ideas that people have about it - and what triggers these ideas? Or what does it mean that large numbers of dogs and cats were introduced into middle-class families in the 19th century, which was a completely new concept at that time?

How is this change of perspective reflected in your research? On the one hand, I am involved in developing methods or continuing to develop them - after all, animals have not left any records about themselves and rarely appear in historical sources. In this respect, however, they only marginally differ from women or social classes that were excluded from any education – there is hardly any mention of them in historical sources either. In order to gain some understanding here, we must re-read and re-evaluate the sources that are available. We have to go against the grain, so to speak. On the other hand, I would like to test the methods by posing specific questions. I am concentrating on performing research on animal-human relations in colonial British India at the turn of the 20th century and in Germany during the Nazi era. 

After spending some time in Bremen, London and Oldenburg, this is your first professorship. What has been your experience so far? The nice thing about my position is that it combines the tasks of a professorship – and I love teaching – with research within the LOEWE cluster. Animal-human relationships are a fairly new field of research in Germany and I think it is wonderful that we are adopting an interdisciplinary approach in this field. When does a historian ever have the opportunity to share ideas intensively with agricultural scientists? We are all breaking new ground together – and I have rarely experienced such a pleasant working atmosphere in the past.

About the Person

  • Junior Professor at the LOEWE cluster "Animals - Humans - Society" at the University of Kassel
  • Associate researcher at the New Zealand Centre for Human Animal Studies

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Published in ProLOEWE NEWS