All posts by 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 Ratting Around by A. Nelson

We do use lots of dogs in biomedical research. One of the cases I find especially interesting focuses on breeding of a colony of hemophiliac Irish Setters: Pemberton, Stephen. “Canine technologies, model patients: the historical production of hemophiliac dogs in American biomedicine.” Industrializing Organisms (2004): 191-213.

Comment on Rats and Mice by A. Nelson

I love your reflections on Burt’s reading of the rat as humanity’s twin / doppelganger – especially the old Lady / young woman optical illusion. All is never as it seems….
On the research animals as “interchangeable parts”: I’ve been interested recently in research about dogs that’s moving in the opposite direction. Insisting that “dog” is just too broad a category to generalize about, Brian Hare’s citizen science project, Dognition, seeks to understand dogs as individuals, and is already changing many of the commonplaces about dogs we assert to be “true” for all of them. (

Comment on Darwin by A. Nelson

I think Kelly makes an important point here — We need to always take an author in context. And by Victorian era standards, Darwin was a revolutionary! By developing theories of change by natural and artificial selection (evolution / domestication), he made the advances in scientific thinking we take for granted now possible.

Comment on A closer look into the human-animal dynamic by A. Nelson

It’s great that Brantz’ selection helped clarify the connection between the biological and cultural components of domestication. You’re right – we have talked about it a lot in class, and several of the readings have taken this theme up, but it’s not an intuitive concept, and sometimes it just takes repeated exposure and work (in this case on the pig!) for the ground to be ready for that “aha moment.”
On the chickens: I would say that in the contemporary US, the “success” of chickens as defined by their overall numbers is mostly due to our quest for cheap protein and willingness to manipulate the birds to that end. Whether that means that chickens are really “doing well” or “benefiting” from the relationship they have with us is a different matter.

Comment on Wascally Wabbits by A. Nelson

I like how this post touches on the (sometimes subtle) distinctions between acclimatization efforts and the unintended introduction of species that become invasive — rabbits in Australia, feral pigs in Hawaii, the cane toad, gypsy moth, kudzu, Burmese python, etc. in the US. Nineteenth-century acclimatization projects were deliberate efforts to help particular animals adapt to new environments at time when the mechanism of evolution (and its underlying premises) were still much debated. Most invasive species, on the other hand, are an accidental by-product or unintended consequence of human activity.

Comment on Pastoralism vs Arctic Nomads by A. Nelson

” God granted Adam dominion over animals, which I think has had a lasting impression on the relationship with animals in a Christian society, in which humans are viewed as the most important beings and all other creatures are at our mercy. This is different from the society of the reindeer people in which all living things have souls and a consciousness just like humans do.” This really gets to the heart of a fundamental difference in cosmologies and we should all probably reflect on that as we think about how we (in the 21st-century West) makes sense of domestication and our relationships with other animals.
Another quick thought re: nomads and pastoralists — they are not mutually exclusive modalities. The Eveni, for example, are both….

Comment on Reindeer People by A. Nelson

I think Corinne is right about domestic and tame reindeer populations being very similar in terms of their genetic make up, and the comparison with feral / “domestic” cats is a good one. I think it also works to take that a step further. The Eveni don’t even try to domesticate wild reindeer, but domestic reindeer can become wild pretty quickly.