The Art of Stroking Animals

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How can historians and  contemporary artists enrich each other’s work?  What can we learn from each other?  We are often concerned with the same questions, but approached from different angles and expressed in different ways.  Our work can intersect, or generate sparks, in ways that are stimulating for both sides and can help push our ideas forward.

Image: still from YouTube video
View Sarah Cockram’s YouTube video

I work on the relationship between humans and animals in late medieval and early modern Europe, and focus on Renaissance Italy.  As well as using visual material as a key historical source for my research, I also find it really valuable to think with contemporary artists about their interpretation of the human-animal bond.

I have recently found it thought-provoking to work with the artist Timothea Armour.  Timothea also explores the relationships between humans and animals, and she invited me to talk about my research on Renaissance animals in a public lecture at Gorgie City farm in Edinburgh.  The lecture was at once an academic paper and at once highly unconventional, as the location on the farm was not the standard venue and farm animals were in attendance – during my paper audience members stroked baby chicks.  In my paper I talked about the importance of proximity, stroking and tactility in historical relationships with animals and the event brought fascinating questions and audience responses to the fore.  Timothea then used video recordings of the event in an installation for the Degree Show at Edinburgh College of Art (see image).

Image: Arts Installation
Timothea Armour – Degree Show at Edinburgh College of Arts

One of the exciting dimensions to research in Animal Studies at the moment is the opportunity to benefit intellectually from these types of innovative collaborations – with artists and filmmakers as well as scientists and vets – and to take research outside the University, and on to the farm.


Text by Dr Sarah Cockram, lecturer (History c.1200-1600).

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Access Dr Sarah Cockram’s YouTube video.

Post Author: Fraser Rowan

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