Faculty Research: Dr. Janet Davis on the History of Animal Activism

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Dr. Janet Davis’s next book, The Gospel of Kindness, is coming out in April from Oxford University Press. Recently, she published a preview of sorts in The American Historian. We’ve printed an excerpt below, and you can find the whole article here.

American animal protectionists from earlier centuries might seem unrecognizable today. Most ate meat. They believed in euthanasia as a humane end to creaturely suffering. They justified humanity’s kinship with animals through biblical ideas of gentle stewardship. They accepted animal labor as a compulsory burden of human need. Their sites of activism included urban streets, Sunday schools, church pulpits, classrooms, temperance meetings, and the transnational missionary field. Committed to animal welfare, they strove to prevent pain and suffering. Contemporary animal rights activists, by contrast, believe that animals possess the right to exist free from human use and consumption. Consequently, current activists and their scholarly associates often miss the historical significance of earlier eras of activism. A growing historiography, however, demonstrates the centrality of animal protection to major American transformations such as Protestant revivalism and reform, the growth of science and technology, the rise of modern liberalism, child protectionism, and the development of American ideologies of benevolence.

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