Re-enchanting the farm: Learning lessons from the past about human-animal relationships

Leading animal studies scholar Professor Erica Fudge (pictured below) has written an exclusive article for the Centre about how the social history of farmer/animal relationships affects and illuminates contemporary debates about intensive animal farming.

Professor Fudge, from the School of Humanities at the University of Strathclyde, examines extensive small-scale farming before the industrial revolution, a world which soon vanished as farming became more mechanised and commercial. Studying the wills of 17th Century Essex husbandmen, she finds that farm animals such as cows and sheep were perceived as more than objects or purely financial value. For example, the common practice of bequeathing lambs by deceased god parents to their godchildren was about passing on religious lessons about care and responsibility, rather than a mere material legacy.

Of course, we cannot simply recreate the conditions of pre-industrial animal farming. But the notion that animals matter more than just as economic units is reflected in modern thinking of them as not just sentient in the sense of experiencing pain but as individuals who benefit from the opportunity to exercise choice or agency over how they live. In other words, we should recognise animals – socially and politically – as beings with their own complex experience of, and emotional responses to, their world.