The Ideal Animal – How Images of Animals and Animals Were Created. 1800-2000

RHN 41/2016 | Event

Organisers: Ulrike Heitholt, M.A., LOEWE Research Cluster "Animals-Humans-Society" University of Kassel and Steven van der Laan, M.Sc., Freudenthal Institute, Descartes Centre, Utrecht Universit

2-3 June 2016, University of Kassel, Steinstraße 19, Witzenhausen, Germany

Please register before 22 May  2016

International Conference
The idea Animal – How images of Animals and Animals Were Created (1800-2000)

The immutability of species was one of the core-aspects of the idea of a “great chain of being” and resided still strongly in the works of for instance Linnaeus. It took until the nineteenth century, after the publication of the works of Lamarck and Darwin, that it became generally accepted that animals change. Very slowly, due to changing environments or variation and selection, and much quicker through human intervention. Humans shape animals, striving for the ideal form they have in mind for particular animals. This is especially the case for animals that live in close proximity to us, such as livestock and pets. Selective breeding has brought on most of the changes to chickens, dogs and all the other animals that we label domesticated. We have been doing so long before Darwin. Examples are plenty, including most famously Robert Bakewell’s practices in the eighteenth century, but in fact they go back to the first attempts at domestication, tens of thousands of years ago.

The use of selective breeding increased in nineteenth century farming. Breeding societies appeared, the number of breeds increased and breeding methods kept on developing. Animals had to be improved, or, in the breeders’ jargon, ‘ennobled.’ This meant in practice that particular animals had to conform to an ideal image, a breed standard. At breeding-exhibitions, much attention was given to the appearance of animals and only the most 'perfect' animals were shown and were awarded prizes. In other settings, such as the development of factory farming, different ideals played a role in the production of the ideal animal, such as growth, food intake or fertility. Ideal images of animals existed also outside the world of livestock breeding. Especially in nineteenth century England, members of the many existing pet-breeding societies were also pursuing strategies to create the ideal animal. The number of breeds produced only increased in the twentieth century.

These two very different worlds have at least one thing in common: In each case, an ideal image is formed and a breeding method or/and system developed in an attempt to reach this ideal. This ideal image changed over time, led to transformations of breeds or resulted in the creation of (new) breeds. And so did also the methods and systems to achieve this. In this conference we explore how these ideal images and animals came into being and how the methods and images changed over the nineteenth and twentieth century, and how these changes related to the development of theories on inheritance.

Click here for Provisional programme

The conference is organised on the 2nd and 3d of June in the town of Witzenhausen near Kassel. Admission is free of charge, but please register before the 22nd of May at the conference website.

The organizers gratefully acknowledge the support of the following: University of Kassel, LOEWE Research Cluster “Animals-Humans-Society”, the LOEWE-Programme, Utrecht University and the Descartes Centre.

For further information, please contact the organisers: Ulrike Heitholt ( and Steven van der Laan (