Tag Archives: education

The Body & the Pen: Finding Synthesis between Art & Medicine

By Walter E., Tiffany M., Colin N., and Paige Z.
During the early modern period in England, science and art came together to compare the bodies of animals and humans. Discoveries from vivisections and dissections, which later shaped scientific drawings and textual descriptions, revealed that human and animal anatomies were more similar than previously believed. These early artistic displays of scientific examinations were important to the present and future, as those recordings set up a foundation on which later scientists could refer when documenting accurate representations of their work. Scientists of the time, including Edward Tyson, a founder of comparative anatomy, set the stage for further scientific and artistic blending for later scientists.

Until this point, medical practice was rooted in the Humoral Theory, a model utilized by Galen. The belief was that the human body was comprised of four parts (or humors): Blood, Phlegm, and Black and Yellow bile. Humors allowed medical surgeons like William Harvey and Edward Tyson to explain how the lungs and circulatory system operated, among other bodily functions. Yet continued use of vivisection and dissection began raising questions about the accuracy of previous theories; and scientists began to pinpoint the similarities and differences among human and animal biology, human and animal anatomy, and the degree to which humans could use body fluids and humors differentiate themselves and claim natural superiority. Though, while these methods of research seem antiquated in the 21st century, they were essential to the advancement of modern medicine and social advancements due to the aforementioned answers unveiled by these examinations. While science and art are often thought to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, with science as absolute thoughts and art showing free-thinking creativity, we have found a means of synthesizing of the two. In our research we have concluded that art and science cannot be treated as separate entities but instead that one lends to the other in that each helped progress the other to become more accurate in both rendering and execution.


Gendered & Racial Others: Dehumanization in Shakespearean Literature

By Allyson H., Tabitha H., Colleen T., and Lauryn W.
During the Renaissance, high anxieties circulated concerning women and racial Others gaining independence or rising to positions of power. To combat these anxieties, men and dominant racial groups attempted to assert their power by defining what qualities made one person superior to others.
Historically, anxieties about women stemmed from the Biblical condemnation of Eve. As a result, upper class white males in Renaissance society attempted to control women’s independence of voice and action through laws like primogeniture and coverture, which placed women under the control of a man—either her father or her husband. Conduct literature was also produced to teach women how to behave in public.
Anxieties about “tawny-skinned” people in Shakespearean England also stemmed from the Bible story of Ham, who “committed a sin against his father Noah that condemned his supposedly black descendants to be ‘servants unto servants’” (Frederickson n.pag). As a result, feelings of distrust and hostility toward black people were fairly common, causing them to be Othered in society. Black-skinned people of the time had many stereotypes attributed to them, such as being quick to anger but full of pride and courage. Shakespeare calls these stereotypes into question.

During this course, our group focused on these anxieties in Shakespeare’s plays and poems. The dehumanization of women and the attempt to combat female power occurs in works like The Rape of Lucrece, King Lear, and The Taming of the Shrew. Additionally, Othello focuses on issues of a racial Other in a position of power, and the stereotypes that can be used to prove the Other’s inferiority. Each text denotes the “inferiority” of Othered groups, ultimately expressing larger anxieties of white males who utilized dehumanization of women and racial Others to prevent their loss of power and superiority within Renaissance society.
Fredrickson, George. “The Historical Origins and Development of Racism.” PBS. PBS, 1 Jan. 2003. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

Bodily Intersections: Artistic & Scientific Renderings of (Non)Humans

By Gus G., Rebecca H., Jared L., Joe Z.


Throughout the semester, we researched the intersecting development of realism in science and art during the English Renaissance. Specifically, we focused attention to how anatomical dissections caused a shift toward more realistic portrayals of human and animal anatomy in artistic texts. The Renaissance saw the rise of anatomical theaters, which indicated an increased interest in methodological science. Prior to this time, anatomy was theoretical in nature, insofar as professors studying the body had more confidence in their books than in the physical evidence before them. Even if a physical dissected body differed from the text, professors privileged images found in their books over the  dissected evidence.  Thus, the first public dissections were conducted in this manner: a professor of anatomy sat high above, reading from an aged text, while below an assistant performed the physical dissection, all of which was conducted in front of an audience.

The influential scientist Francis Bacon pioneered the scientific method that influenced later research in the period–and this method shaped continued inquiry today. Following in Bacon’s footsteps, William Harvey, using the same scientific method, discovered that blood circulates through the body. Prior to this moment, no scientists embraced the idea that blood left the heart and then circulated back . These discoveries challenged commonly held beliefs about the connection between animals and humans.  Similarities between animals and humans led scholars to doubt the superiority of humans.

During the English Renaissance, curiosity about anatomy led to a greater interest in more realistic portrayals of anatomy in methodological science and paintings. Previously, illustrators were significantly less concerned with an accurate representation of animal anatomy. The representations were more allegorical and less about realistically portraying the actual animal. For example, illustrations of Aesop’s fables might depict a beaver as being indistinguishable from a medium sized dog. The Renaissance saw a rise in accurate artistic representations of both human and animal anatomy.

Cultural Fantasies & (Un)Acceptable Realities in Literature

By  Emily G., Adrianna M., Evan P., Melissa S., and Hannah V.

The research shaping our series of posts examines the social issues addressed in English Renaissance literature and drama. We have found that what was considered largely unacceptable in the “reality” of Early Modern England was welcomed onstage or in a work of literature, and that the job of art was not only to replicate a semblance of reality, but also to comment on what that social reality lacked. Since strict principles of hierarchy and subordination structured the culture of the time, playwrights and writers had the opportunity  either to challenge or to uphold the public’s expectations. They did this through the inclusion of half-human creatures and magical beings such as fairies, ghosts and spirits, androgynous humans, and werewolves.
All of the half-human creatures that we studied arose from social anxieties about the body; and they reflected a popular desire to separate “the human” from “the animal” and “the non-human.” Humans elevated some creatures above themselves, including as magical beings and fairies; meanwhile they shunned others as lesser, placing in this category spirits, androgynous humans, and werewolves. What tied these categories together is that many of the figures in both challenged anthropocentric views of humanity. What’s more, writers attempted to mitigate some anxieties by positioning non-human figures as plot devices: ghosts were commonly created for the purpose of revenge, androgyny was often depicted in a comedic light, and werewolves were considered human minds doomed to life in the body of an animal as punishment. These issues guided our research and led to questions of how non-human creatures alleviated or heightened the preexisting anxieties and how they were employed by or against humanity. A deeper understanding of these questions shaped our view that literature and drama used these half-human creatures to define humanity. ​

Practical Criticism Midwest, 2014

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 1.40.17 PM

The Graduate Student Advisory Board at Ball State is proud to announce its CFP for the spring Practical Criticism Midwest Conference. The event is open to all BSU graduate students, and this year’s event seeks to blur lines among genres and disciplines by inviting works from a variety of humanities fields as well as initiating a new tradition of hosting creative readings and poster presentations in addition to traditional conference presentations. Interested parties can submit at:



(Performing Humanity may be biased, but we’d also like to acknowledge the timeliness and relevance of this year’s theme)

“An Animal”: Human Behavior, Labels, and Governance

In December of 2012, a lone gun-man walked into an elementary school at Newtown, CT and killed a group of over twenty people that included the school principle, several teachers, and a range of students under the age of 10. As news coverage informed Americans of the tragedy in their midst, pundits, politicians, and activists also began dealing with two large, weighted questions:

What role did gun control play in this event?

Is it too soon to consider the role of gun control in relation to this event?

Representatives from the NRA released several statements, with vice president Wayne LaPierre asserting that the organization stands by its beliefs: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Meanwhile, gun-attack victim Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) visited with the families of victims in order to share communal stories of pain and loss, and several gun-shows in the region were canceled out of respect for survivors in the community.

Students of the humanities will recognize that the debates surrounding both the Newtown shooting specifically and the issue of gun control more generally tap into larger, more long-term vocabularies that questions the foundations of humanity and, in connection, the levels of need for human governance.

Emerging from the bloodshed of the English Civil War, Thomas Hobbes composed The Leviathan as a credo on humanity and its governance.  According to Hobbes, human beings struggle with a need for a social contract that will bring them out of a State of Nature and into a cooperative order.  Such order is constructed and can only exist with enforcement because humans are by nature selfish and violent, they share a common tendency to war with others in order to achieve individual survival. In such a situation, life becomes “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  Clearly cooperative order is more desirable; the problem is that the social contract can only function when all behave according to its law.  So how do you effectively urge such violent creatures to trust one another and to avoid breaking rules when it suits their individual desires?  For Hobbes, the answer is the Leviathan: a singular tyrant whose absolute power coerces the masses into performing the social contract together.

While Hobbes’ approach to human nature and political governance echoes in our own lives (one need only listen to recent debates regarding gun control, for example), he is one of myriad philosophers whose work shapes attitudes toward human nature. Writing 38 years after Hobbes, John Locke posited in his Two Treatises on Human Government that human beings were devoid of violent survival instincts because they were born tabula rosa: blank slates.  Together in the State of Nature, individuals could live in “perfect equality.” Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 11.19.53 PMThrough socialization and education, humans learn how to generate individual and collective identities; and, for this reason, a humanistic education can teach human beings to create balanced, free societies wherein each individual’s rights count.  Much like Hobbes’ views, Locke’s persist.  Students of American history and politics undoubtedly hear his voice in the Constitution’s assertion of the inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

When we consider contemporary political and legal discussions in our own country and worldwide, what does it mean that two such drastic approaches to humanness exist?  In what ways can they be used to triangulate as we navigate our own humanity?  And to what degree might these debates also signal our role as animals?

After all, humans are not unique in their squabbles, feuds, and power struggles. Animal communities across species experience the same challenges. Wild and domesticated horses turn to the leadership of an alpha-female, who is powerful enough to provide direction and protective strategies and gentle enough to care for weaker omega horses at the lower ends of the herd.  Wolf packs and lion prides, meanwhile, function under the governance of alpha-males who can protect from attacks, lead aggressive strikes against intruders, organize breeding, and direct members toward good hunting. Amidst these groups, leadership is never stable. As documentaries such as Meerkat Manor remind us, even in the animal kingdom there is the odd coup d’etat and a variety of allegiances surrounding them.

Performing Humanity invites submissions from philosophers, cultural theorists, anthropologists, sociologists, and scientists with interest in further discussion of these issues.


Dr. Miranda Nesler is the editor of Performing Humanity and is an assistant professor of Early Modern & Medieval Literature at Ball State University in Indiana.


Image: Shannon Hicks, The Newton Bee (via The Atlantic Wire, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/national/2012/12/newtown-connecticut-school-shooting/59999/)


Katy Steinmetz, “The NRA Responds to Newtown.” Time: Swampland (http://swampland.time.com/2012/12/21/the-nra-responds-to-newtown-america-needs-more-good-guys-with-guns/)

John Christoffersen, “Gabrielle Giffords’ Newtown Visit.” The Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/05/gabrielle-giffords-newtown-visit_n_2415720.html)

Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan (London, 1651).

John Locke, The Two Treatises on Human Government (London, 1689).

What is Modernity for Animals and Us?

By Dr. Susan Nance

When did animals become modern? When did humanness, defined in relationship to animals, become equally modern?

Here is perhaps one moment in the transition. While people in the Western world were living through the transformation to modernity—through integration into globalized industrial and trade networks, mature nationhood, a cultural emphasis on consumption and personality, the birth of cinema, streamlined architecture or what-have-you—for many, being a modern individual included an ethos of caring about the experiences of captive wild animals (Burt 2002: 35-36; Kean 1998: 31; Lippit 2002). To be fully modern and human was to be humane toward species that many people had long perceived as enemies. It was to see wild animals as sentient and subject to the advancements of modernity—just as people were.

Enter the “scientific” wild animal trainer. Emerging in circuses, animal parks, and carnival shows beginning in the 1880s, he was an outspoken reformer and also showman, self-promoter,and brash exploiter of exotic animals. Especially in Europe and Britain, trainers like Frank Bostock, Carl Hagenbeck, and August Kober would insist that “we have no need of any society for the prevention of cruelty to animals, because the circus or menagerie animal is just as much a comrade as the human performer” (Kober 1931: 18). So would Carl Hagenbeck claim he could “educate” lions, bears, cougars, tigers, and elephants because he employed patient repetition and positive reinforcement in training. He also claimed—and Scientific American magazine praised him for it—not to require his trainees to perform any movement that was not “natural” to them (Shiestone 1902).

These men had limited understandings of the breadth or function of species-typical behaviors for their animals because, at the time, most wild animals had yet to be systematically observed in the wild. Nonetheless, they had a point in that the “old” mode of animal training (still widely practiced then and today with large exotics) was a stick-then-carrot approach that involved harsh physical punishment of animals followed by food rewards for successfully following direction. As the argument went, 19th century animal wranglers who boasted of thus using “brutality” in dominance training with elephants, tigers, or bears were subjective, inefficient, and unmanly relics of the dark past. Their animal trainees became belligerent and maddened not because inherently imperfect (as many argued about exotic wild animals at the time), but because imperfectly educated.

The animal trainer who relied on “science” and “kindness” was a superior human and man: rational, systematically observant, and patient in his manipulations of animal behavior. He was, in short, modern. Still, many traditional animal trainers complained that “kindness” trainers admitted  nonetheless to using force “in cases of gross disobedience,” striking and tying down animal “pupils” as a demonstration to them of “trainer’s firmness” (Bostock 1913: 233; Joys 1983: 19). In fact, the change to the “new” training was a matter of degree not kind in the use of physical coercion of captive animals, and its and our modernity is still hotly debated.


Dr. Susan Nance is Associate Professor of History and affiliated faculty with the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph.


Image 1: “Bostock’s Trained Animals—An Affectionate Bear,” 1903. LC-USZ62-15899, Photographs and Prints Division, Library of Congress.

Image 2: “Bostock’s Trained Lions,” Hall photographer, 1903. LC-USZ62-15898, Photographs and Prints Division, Library of Congress.


Bostock, Frank Chares. The Training of Wild Animals. New York: Century Company, 1913.

Burt, Jonathan. Animals in Film. London: Reaktion Books, 2002.

Joys, Joanne Carol. The Wild Animal Trainer in America. Boulder, CO: Pruett Publishing, 1983.

Kean, Hilda. Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain since 1800. London: Reaktion Books, 1998.

Kober, August Heinrich. Circus Nights and Circus Days: Extracts from the Diary of a Circus Man. New York: W. Morrow Co., 1931.

Lippit, Akira Mizuta. “The Death of an Animal.” Film Quarterly 56, no. 1 (December 2002): 9-22.

Shiestone, Harold J. “The Scientific Training of Wild Animals” Scientific American. (October 1902): 260.

Dr. Miranda Nesler on Using Innovative Instruction and Expanding her Classroom to Larger Communities

Blog Feature

Ball State English Department

In the spring of 2012, English Professor Dr. Miranda Nesler instructed a class called “Performing Humanity in the Renaissance” (Eng 363). In creating the course, Dr. Nesler sought to provide  Renaissance content as well as to introduce innovative teaching and learning opportunities. In order to achieve these goals, Dr. Nesler and her class created the blog, Performing Humanity in the Renaissance, which primarily features student posts and which is still active.  In the following guest post, Dr. Nesler writes about her pedagogical experiment.

View original post 643 more words

%d bloggers like this: