What can a bird tell us about prejudice? What relevance might the history of racism and other forms of human alienation have for zoology and bioscience?
Contemporary debates about animals underline the extent to which socio-cultural and scientific understandings of human relations with the natural world can diverge. Prejudice against animals and prejudice against categories of human intersect through the cultural resonances of terms routinely deployed in natural science – ‘native’, ‘invasive’, ‘migrant’ – in ways that have yet to be fully understood. My project is designed to address these issues by relating the cultural history of a particular creature that has over time been the vehicle of prejudice: the cormorant.
The history of the cormorant is a history of prejudice. It has been associated with greed and usury and deployed antisemitically; in contemporary culture, it is drawn into a range of prejudicial discourses from anti-immigration rhetoric to the language of loathing of the European Union. The story of the cormorant demonstrates how human discourses of prejudice extend to non-human creatures, the persistence of these discursive displacements, and the variations in the form they take across time and cultures.
It’s not obvious from my AIAS project, but I’m a Shakespeare scholar by trade: a literary critic and textual editor. I’ve taught at King’s College London since 1995 and have worked closely with Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for much of that time. My publications include monographs – on the playwright John Fletcher, on late style, and on Shakespeare and memory – collections of essays and editions of plays by Shakespeare.
Project title: Cormorant: A Natural and Cultural History of Prejudice
Area of research: Literary and cultural studies
Fellowship period: 1 February 2022 - 31 July 2023