Performing Humanity is an independent scholarly blog invested in promoting interdisciplinary conversations about the language and social structures shaping our perceptions of humans and animals. The site explores these questions through lenses of history and literature as well as with an eye to contemporary debates. At base, our mission is to raise questions about the origins, functions, and limits of these categories.
This blog originated as a multi-media project linked to Dr. Miranda Garno Nesler’s Spring 2012 seminar English 363: Performing Humanity in the Renaissance. The course considered early modern distinctions between “human” and “animal” in order to query the terms’ effects on individual and social identities, legal and social behaviors, and literary representations of hybridity. Throughout the semester, students analyzed a range of philosophical, social, legal, scientific, and religious documents; by bringing them into conversation with contemporary drama and poetry, students explored the frequently contradictory and unstable relationships that humans had to their own humanity. And they even began considering how early modern vocabularies about humanity shape current debates in our own times.
During the spring, students spent one half of the semester gathering research and building annotated bibliographies under the rubrics of “Science and Art,” “Literature and Drama,” and “Law and Social Behavior.” As students gained a well-rounded knowledge in early modern hybridity, they moved into the final phase of their projects: Generating collaborative introductions for their units, and creating individual posts that fit within those headings. Performing Humanity was founded to host their projects, disseminate their work, and open a larger, on-going conversation within the field of animal studies.