Captivating Animals

Captivating Animals is a Princeton Writing Program Seminar
WRI 194: T/TH 8:30am-9:50am
WRI 195: T/TH 11:00am-12:20pm

From cat memes to the multi-billion-dollar pet industry, animals are endearing and enthralling figures. Yet they are also captive test subjects in scientific laboratories and raw material in factory farms. Our deep fascination with animals leads us to place some animals on pedestals while others are locked away or systematically slaughtered. How do we explain such complicated, inconsistent attitudes toward animals? This Writing Seminar begins by considering the role of animals in visual culture, using John Berger’s pathbreaking essay “Why Look at Animals?” to analyze Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s 2013 film Blackfish. After confronting questions about killer whales in captivity, we turn to a multi-disciplinary study of the Bronx Zoo. By looking at the zoo’s current exhibits, as well as historical documents, and demographic and financial data, we consider the institution from economic, psychological, philosophical, zoological, and design perspectives. For the research paper, students identify and investigate a human-animal cultural practice of their choosing. Possible topics range from the politics of keeping chickens and pigeons in Brooklyn backyards, to the ethics of harvesting pig valves to treat cardiac disease in humans, the representation of animals in Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway, or the genetic implications of extreme dog breeding.