Cultures and Knowledge Workshop Reading List: "The Dog Years: A History of Beagle Science"

November 11th, 2021

On November 15, the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge will present a new lecture in their Cultures and Knowledge Workshop series for the term. This workshop, titled "The Dog Years: a History of Beagle Science," will be presented by Brad Bolman. 


This talk explores how beagles, the affectionate tricolor hounds that have long been one of America’s most popular dogs, became increasingly central to regimes of global scientific experimentation across numerous disciplines in the twentieth century. At a moment of dramatic expansion in both radiobiology and pharmacology as well as efforts to standardize biological research tools, beagles were gradually re-conceptualized as a new kind of technology: the "experimental dog.” Tracing their movement from Cold War projects of understanding the atom to attempts to offer definitive proof that cigarettes cause cancer and the new market in companion pharmaceuticals, the talk will show how efforts to breed and study beagles generated not only new understandings of human health and well-being but also fundamentally reframed our relationship with “man’s best friend.”

About the presenter: Brad Bolman is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at the University of Chicago. With a PhD from the Department of the History of Science at Harvard. His research is focused on the intersections of biology, physics, medicine, and capitalism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, particularly concerning nonhuman organisms. His first book project, The Dog Years, traces the emergence of the beagle dog as an experimental subject in eugenics, radiobiology, tobacco research pharmacology, and neuroscience. It explores how locally bred dogs became transnational laboratory commodities and how scientists came to understand themselves and what it means to be human through the dogs.

Below is a list of further reading on the topic of the workshop, compiled by Brad Bolman:

When Species Meet (University of Minnesota Press, 2007)
Donna J. Haraway

Whom do we touch when we touch a dog? How does this touch shape our multispecies world?

Donna J. Haraway contemplates the interactions of humans with many kinds of critters, especially with those called domestic. From designer pets to lab animals to trained therapy dogs, she deftly explores philosophical, cultural, and biological aspects of animal–human encounters. In this deeply personal yet intellectually groundbreaking work, Haraway develops the idea of companion species, those who meet and break bread together but not without some indigestion.

Alien Ocean (University of California Press 2009)
Stefan Helmreich

Alien Ocean immerses readers in worlds being newly explored by marine biologists, worlds usually out of sight and reach: the deep sea, the microscopic realm, and oceans beyond national boundaries. Working alongside scientists at sea and in labs in Monterey Bay, Hawai'i, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Sargasso Sea and at undersea volcanoes in the eastern Pacific, Stefan Helmreich charts how revolutions in genomics, bioinformatics, and remote sensing have pressed marine biologists to see the sea as animated by its smallest inhabitants: marine microbes. Thriving in astonishingly extreme conditions, such microbes have become key figures in scientific and public debates about the origin of life, climate change, biotechnology, and even the possibility of life on other worlds.


Drugs for Life (Duke University Press 2012)
Joseph Dumit

Every year the average number of prescriptions purchased by Americans increases, as do healthcare expenditures, which are projected to reach one-fifth of the U.S. gross domestic product by 2020. In Drugs for Life, Joseph Dumit considers how our burgeoning consumption of medicine and cost of healthcare not only came to be, but also came to be taken for granted. For several years, Dumit attended pharmaceutical industry conferences; spoke with marketers, researchers, doctors, and patients; and surveyed the industry's literature regarding strategies to expand markets for prescription drugs. He concluded that underlying the continual growth in medications, disease categories, costs, and insecurity is a relatively new perception of ourselves as inherently ill and in need of chronic treatment. This perception is based on clinical trials that we have largely outsourced to pharmaceutical companies. Those companies in turn see clinical trials as investments and measure the value of those investments by the size of the market and profits that they will create. They only ask questions for which the answer is more medicine. Drugs for Life challenges our understanding of health, risks, facts, and clinical trials, the very concepts used by pharmaceutical companies to grow markets to the point where almost no one can imagine a life without prescription drugs.


How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (University of California Press 2013)
Eduardo Kohn

Can forests think? Do dogs dream? This book challenges the very foundations of anthropology, calling into question our central assumptions about what it means to be human—and thus distinct from all other life forms. Based on four years of fieldwork among the Runa of Ecuador’s Upper Amazon, the book draws on ethnographic research to explore how Amazonians interact with the many creatures that inhabit one of the world’s most complex ecosystems. Whether or not we recognize it, our anthropological tools hinge on those capacities that make us distinctly human. However, when we turn our ethnographic attention to how we relate to other kinds of beings, these tools (which have the effect of divorcing us from the rest of the world) break down. This book seizes on this breakdown as an opportunity. Avoiding reductionistic solutions, and without losing sight of how our lives and those of others are caught up in the moral webs we humans spin, it skillfully fashions new kinds of conceptual tools from the strange and unexpected properties of the living world itself. The work takes anthropology in a new direction—one that offers a more capacious way to think about the world we share with other kinds of beings.

Synthetic: How Life Got Made (University of Chicago Press 2017)
Sophia Roosth

In Synthetic: How Life Got Made, cultural anthropologist Sophia Roosth reveals how synthetic biologists make new living things in order to understand better how life works. The first book-length ethnographic study of this discipline, Synthetic documents the social, cultural, rhetorical, economic, and imaginative transformations biology has undergone in the post-genomic age. Roosth traces this new science from its origins at MIT to start-ups, laboratories, conferences, and hackers’ garages across the United States—even to contemporary efforts to resurrect extinct species. Her careful research reveals that rather than opening up a limitless new field, these biologists’ own experimental tactics circularly determine the biological features, theories, and limits they fasten upon. Exploring the life sciences emblematic of our time, Synthetic tells the origin story of the astonishing claim that biological making fosters biological knowing.

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