About A. Nelson

I am a historian of Russia with expertise in cultural history and emerging interests in animal studies and environmental history. My current research projects include studies of the Soviet space dogs, the significance of the Belyaev fox domestication project, and the cultural implications of domestication, particularly in Eurasia.

Comment on Asses, Horses, Bits, and Chariots by A. Nelson

There’s so much here for us to talk about! For now, a quick comment on horizons — yes, they are most useful and quite necessary. Going back to the earlier discussion we had about “progress,” the concept of a chronological and developmental horizon helps make meaningful comparisons about change that is variable and influenced by specific local conditions. If we think that there is “A Bronze Age” that happened in one place at one time, then all other cultures must be “backward” or “aberrant” if they don’t look just so at the right time.

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Comment on Bit wear and Prehistory by A. Nelson

Then my work is done! We do think of History as being preoccupied with human activity as recorded by texts, and until recently (the last few decades) have overlooked many other kinds of evidence (material culture, other animals, the environment, etc.). And scientists and historians have until very recently (that last decade or so) assumed there was a distinct boundary between “pre” history and the real thing, which was marked by the advent of writing, agriculture, “civilization,” etc. Similarly, we assume that natural history and history don’t have all that much to say to each other. The goal of the course is to think about how animals have indeed shaped the human experience — from its very beginnings until the present.

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Comment on On Goats and Farming, Practicality and Pastoralism by A. Nelson

I wonder if Kessler’s intent was perhaps a bit different that what you are assuming it was? I do see the romanticism you are cringing over, but I’m not sure it’s the main flavor of the book, which I see as a rich and nuanced rumination about the connections between growing one’s food and living closely with the creatures that provide some of that food via some really intelligent insights about the deep, but unacknowledged resonances of pastoralism (not farming) with our most fundamental forms of communication and seeing ourselves in the world.

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Comment on The Goat Ballad by A. Nelson

It’s true that the themes of our readings seem to loop back on themselves. My hope is that they do so in ways that enrich the tapestry of our thinking about what living domestication means (rather than just confusing everyone!) Fortunately, the debate about whether or not animals such as goats have emotions, has pretty much been settled and the answer is YES. (We can talk in class about why humans have been intent for so long to deny that this is so.) The book that’s next on my reading list (after I finish Rob Dunn’s, The Wild Life of Our Bodies), is Virginia Morell’s, Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures, which just came out in February.

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Comment on Pastoralized Cheese (Get it?) by A. Nelson

I’m resisting the temptation to title my next post, “Apotheosis of Goat Cheese”! Seriously, I think if you had ever eaten “the real thing” (fresh, homemade chevre), you would wholeheartedly endorse Kessler’s devotion to this amazing comestible. I agree that the parasite that afflicts Lizzy offers a fascinating counterpoint to the kinds of creature-creature relationships we focus on for most of the class. And I’m counting on the bio people to tell us more. As I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m thoroughly enjoying Rob Dunn’s book (The Wild Life of Our Bodies) about the predators and parasites that shape our humanity (and determine our health as individuals). I’m searching for a corny ending to this comment but for now the cheesiness of this post will have to stand on its own. ;-)

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Comment on Language and Pastoral Fantasies by A. Nelson

I found Kessler’s discussion of the pastoral roots of language incredibly interesting as well. As for “romanticizing” goat herding and cheese making, I’m not sure why this is a bad thing? I’m also not sure that’s a major aspect of the book, but I’m sure you all will enlighten me during class! I’m thinking about Reindeer People and remembering how the Eveni do indeed name and form relationships with individual reindeer.

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Comment on Caging Wolves by A. Nelson

We will be spending lots of time on “animal culture” in the next few weeks. Later in the book, Derr elaborates on the aspects of wolf-dog ethology that has made the interaction between humans and dogs so fruitful for so long. For now, check out the “founding fathers” of ethological inquiry: Lorenz, Tinbergen and Uexkuell…

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Comment on On Folktales by A. Nelson

I find the second folktale especially intriguing as well. It suggests that the first reindeer came into the world with human assistance — as domesticates — and that their offspring chose to become wild — an interesting inversion of the more common trajectory of domestication.

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