Animals in the Archives Symposium

Thursday, 27 October 2016 - 6:00pmFriday, 28 October 2016 - 5:00pm

Rainey Auditorium, Penn Museum & LGBT Center

Animals in the Archives Symposium

This two-day symposium brings leading scholars in animal history together with Philadelphia-based archivists to theorize the historical traces that animals leave behind. Discussions will focus on how animals come to be represented textually, visually, and materially in historical archives—both dead (as in leather bindings, parchment made from animal skins, iron-gall inks, hide and bone glues, and taxidermy specimens) and very much alive (as in bookworms, silverfish, mice, and other archival “pests” that eat the bindings, adhesives, and other substances in library and archival collections). By thinking through the stakes of nonhuman animal representation in archives, the symposium addresses both the history of human-animal relationships across time and the theory and practice of history and archival classification. It aims to provide a broader view of the human past and to reconsider the anthropocentric biases of conventional historical practice, while also exploring methodological questions about the possibility of history beyond the human.


Thursday, October 27, 2016 | 6:00–8:00pm
SCREENING: Matto Grosso, the Great Brazilian Wilderness

Rainey Auditorium, Penn Museum, 3260 South Street

The symposium begins on Thursday, October 27, with a screening of the documentary film Matto Grosso, the Great Brazilian Wilderness (1931), which Penn Museum archivists will introduce. The 49-minute screening will be followed by a roundtable from 7:00 to 8:00 PM on the topic of animals and film.

In the late 1920s Eldridge Reeves Johnson, inventor and former corporate magnate, developed a relationship with the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology that would indirectly result in pioneering work in film technology history. In 1930 Captain Vladimir Perfilieff, a Russian-born artist and adventurer, and John S. Clarke, friend and former classmate of Johnson, asked him to fund a zoological and ethnographic expedition to be undertaken and filmed in the Mato Grosso plateau of Brazil. The film is the result of this joint expedition, which documents the people, animals, and environment of the region. More information is available on the Penn Museum's website.


SYMPOSIUM: Friday, October 28, 2016 | 10:00am –5:00pm
LGBT Center, 3907 Spruce Street

Speakers include Bruce Holsinger (University of Virginia), Iris Montero (Brown University), Rebecca Woods (University of Toronto), Nigel Rothfels (University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) and Neel Ahuja (University of California, Santa Cruz). At 1:00 PM we will hold a roundtable on “The Materiality of Animal Archives” featuring scholars and Philadelphia-based archivists. The symposium will be followed by a public reception at 5:00 PM.

Symposium co-organized by Etienne Benson (Penn, History and Sociology of Science), Zeb Tortorici (NYU, Spanish and Portuguese), and Carolyn Fornoff (Penn, Spanish and Portuguese).


This symposium is made possible by the generous support of the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences, the Penn Humanities Forum, and the Penn Museum, with co-sponsorship from the Penn Year of Media, and the Departments of Spanish & Portuguese, South Asia Studies, History, English, and History and Sociology of Science. We are also grateful to the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities, the Mütter Museum, and the Kislak Center for their participation and support.