Project Description

Cultural and Literary Animal Studies

Module content

  • Find answers to the question “What is an animal?” and learn about the historical situations, contexts, cultures, discourses and disciplines which have shaped different conceptualizations of animals and the distinctions between the human and animals
  • Learn about New Ethology, a new approach in the Natural Sciences, its connections with Cultural Studies and its impact on how animals are understood
  • Explore the formative power of arts and culture (literature, film, theatre, fine arts, music) on how human-animal-relations are conceived
  • Programme – The course is taught in English (4 ECTS)
  • Requirements – Master’s or advanced Bachelor’s students of the Humanities: Literary Studies, Cultural Studies, Philosophy, Theatre Studies, Art History, and related programmes

  • Programme fee – tba. (includes all study materials, transcript of records and health, liability and accident insurance as well as a public transportation ticket within Frankfurt).
  • Application deadline – tba.

Course description

In recent years, animals have sparked great interest in society and academic research. This imminent importance of animals seems to be connected to a growing awareness for the need of responsible and sustainable ways of relating to nature. Traditionally, animals and the environment have been seen as a topic for the natural sciences. But in the anthropocene, animals have become valid objects for the so-called humanities and cultural studies.  Thereby, enabling the exploration of ways of thinking (about/with) animals.

The module Cultural and Literary Animal Studies is an introduction to this area of research: and approaches the subject on three levels:

Firstly, Cultural and Literary Animal Studies aim to multiply the answers to the question “what is an animal?”  In changing historical situations, contexts, cultures, and in different discourses and disciplines, the conceptualization of animals and the distinctions between the human and animals varies.

Secondly, this new approach of cultural studies works in conjunction with a new approach in the natural sciences, that of New Ethology. The ways in which the natural sciences view animals have changed over the last fifteen years, since the early-2000s.  They are collecting evidence for the hypothesis that some animals have more (and: more human-like) abilities, than we presumed those animals to be able to have for a long period of time.

Thirdly, the arts and culture—namely literature, film, theatre, fine-arts and music—are inviting us to explore their formative power of human‒animal-relations. From the point of view of Cultural Animal Studies, they are not simple representations of the conceptualizations of animals that are produced elsewhere; but instead the arts are actively taking part in creating conceptualizations of animals, as well as to challenge these concepts.

The module approaches the questions by exploring a series of paradigmatic topics, practices, institutions and concepts, discussing literary texts, performances, images, and films. Possible focus topics for our discussions are: zoo and circus; improvisation and law; taxidermy and museum; violence and war; training and domestication; experiment and stage; empathy and encounter; bestiary and taxonomy; observing and looking back; meat and flesh; hand and face.

The course comprises 28 contact hours (8*3.5 hours). Upon successful completion, 4 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) points will be awarded for the module. A single ECTS point is defined as the equivalent of 25 to 30 hours of student workload. This includes class hours, additional preparations for class activities, readings, assignments as well as final assessments.

Attendance: Participants have to attend at least 80 % of the classes.


Prof. Dr. Roland Borgards

Dipl. Thea. Esther Köhring