Horses and Donkeys: Past to Present

Anthonys’ and Bulliets’ discussions of horses and donkeys paths to domestication really help to show the drastically different ways that animals come to be domesticated. Before this class, I viewed the domestication of animals as a sort of set in stone process that all animals followed to lose their wild instincts and aid humans, but throughout our readings it has become very evident that every animal has its own unique journey. It is truly astounding how some animals have worked their way into our lives as are the cases with both the horse and the donkey. For the horse it seems that it was simple as favorable winter eating habits while for the donkey it boils down to being well endowed. Such simple behaviors and attributes have led to societies that revolve around these animals in all aspects of their lives. It is hard to imagine how much history would be changed if these beasts of burden hadn’t pawed through the ice to get a drink of water on a cold winter day.

Even more relevant to me were all of the different methods that anthropologists make use of to obtain all the data we have on these domestication processes. The creativity they use to come up with answers is phenomenal. I pride them in continuing to press on with new methods and discoveries when they well know that many of the questions they are asking will never have definitive answers. No matter how much we look at the evidence of early domestication, short of time travel, we can never be certain exactly what happened; yet day in and day out these individuals head in to work and continue to try. I hope that I can be that interested and driven in my future endeavors. This was a bit of a side note but I couldn’t help but mention it just to see if any one else found this interesting. Anyways back to the blog.

Both Anthony and Bulliet’s accounts drew me in, but I must admit that it was the story of the donkey that I  found most interesting. I know we have all been very hard on Bulliet and Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers but I did find his ideas on the domestication of donkeys to be interesting. Bulliet’s discussion of the development of the donkey throughout its history with humans shed a light on a side of the donkey that I was not familiar with. I have always associated the donkey with simplicity and farm life but all of the religious and sexual ties were new to me. The donkeys ties with sex and religion do provide an answer to the reason for the donkeys initial domestication which I must admit always puzzled me. The donkey never really provided the things that other domesticated species did, such as milk or meat. Also, it didn’t seem to me that the donkey could have been domesticated solely for its use as a beast of burden, as other animals that have additional uses could have filled this role. However, sex is a powerful force throughout human history, and it does not take a stretch of the imagination to see how any animal with such strong sexual ties could slowly be incorporated into human society. Sadly, it seems that the donkey has been on a steady decline throughout its history, and regardless of the validity of Bulliets arguments, it is a very good example of how domesticated animals slowly become objectified as their purpose shifts from affective uses to material ones.

In addition, as I mentioned in my last post, I really like learning about word and phrase origins. Bulliet had some very unique explanations for the origins of many of the different terms that developed around the “ass”. It is really cool to learn where words that pop up without a second thought everyday really come from. The next time I hear someone called a dumb ass it will bring a much different picture to mind. Also the whole development of the “dunce cap” finally explained how such a seemingly strange punishment came to be. It was great to add a couple more things to my bag of useless fun facts!

I thought these readings opened up a lot of new discussion topics, as well as built up many of the past thoughts we have discussed. I look forward to reading everyone’s posts and hearing what you all have to say on Tuesday.


Goats: The History of Everything

Kessler’s journey from the suburbs to a life revolving around a small flock of goats was truly astonishing. I have had very little experience with farms in my lifetime as I have mentioned in past blogs, which made this account especially eye-opening for me. I have always lived with the story book idea of a farm being a simple happy place where plants and animals and people all live in harmony. Over time I came to understand that it wasn’t quite so simple but I never really knew anymore than the fact that farm work is often hard work. After reading Kessler’s account in Goat Song I got a small taste of what life really is like on a farm today. As I was reading, I felt like I was taking the same journey as him, minus the fact that he did all the work and I never left the couch. It really sparked my interest and I must say I got sucked into to the day to day happenings and the well-being of Lizzie, Hannah, Nisa, Pie, Penny, Eustace Tilley and the other kids, neighboring animals, and Lola.

Kessler did a phenomenal job weaving together his experiences on his farm with historical information, facts, and ideas. I really enjoyed the small breaks from his story to explain the origins of various words, or describe a cheese-making process or recipe, or tell another side story related to the happenings of his own life. It really kept me interested in the story and broadened my knowledge in ways that I would not have expected from a book about goats.

The whole process of caring for and raising a herd of goats was unbelievable. The amount of work that was put in from the initial selection of a few individuals, to breeding, to milking, not to mention all the care-taking duties really explains the term kid for baby goats. It was like having kids! It is a 24/7 job that encompasses joy and love and fear and sorrow and so much more. As I started getting into the book, I began to get a feeling that it might be a lot of fun to have a couple of goats of my own, but the more I read the more I realized that I have enough difficulty taking care of myself that to throw on the many responsibilities and tasks of just a couple goats would be an impossible mission. But the feelings Kessler describes through the process make the whole journey seem very appealing, even with all of the hard-work involved.

Throughout the reading, there were many subjects that caught my attention and peaked my interest. The many explanations for the origins of words and terms we use today were especially appealing to me. I have always loved learning where some strange phrase or term we have comes from, and Kessler seems to share my interest. I did not realize how much of our language can be attributed to goats and early pastoral societies. From words like scapegoat and panic to the letters of our alphabet, goats and the lifestyles surrounding them have played a significant role in our communication to this day. I have always wondered exactly where a word like scapegoat originated, and after explaining the background of the historical feelings towards goat, which seemed very negative at times, and their sexual habits and ties to the devil and of their being cast out into the wilderness, terms like scapegoat and panic make a lot of sense. In addition, I found Kessler’s discussion on the biochemistry of cheese to be really intriguing. I have never really been a fan of cheese, and have never looked into the different processes used to make the large variety of cheeses we have today, but after reading the section on all of the organisms and compounds involved in the art of cheese making, I can’t help but get  drawn in. I had never even considered how the diets, lifestyles, and surroundings of an animal would play into the end cheese product. Cheese was cheese to me, but now I can’t help but picture all the little grasses and bacteria that went into each slice. Cheese is like a snowflake; no two pieces are alike. I definitely plan to read more on the art of cheese-making.

Kessler also managed to weave in a few references that tie into our discussions of domestication. He touched on the idea of haves and have-nots briefly at one point, and I couldn’t help but see the connection to Jared Diamonds central theory in Guns, Germs, and Steel. In addition, he hits on what it was that made certain animals susceptible to human domestication, while others were not. Amongst other reasons, he mentions dominance hierarchies, diet, and flight response, all of which were central to Diamonds’ ideas. I don’t know if he borrowed these ideas from Diamond or from some other source, but it is very interesting to see how all of our readings seem to tie together when they seem so different on the surface.

There are so many great topics to discuss in this book, but I will save the rest for Tuesday’s meeting. I hope the rest of you enjoyed this book as well and I look forward to hearing what everyone else has to say!