#EqHist2018: Kit Heintzman on “Whose horses matter?”

All month long we will be featuring speaker’s abstracts for the upcoming Equine History Conference: Why Equine History Matters. Register now!

Whose horses matter?
Kit Heintzman, Harvard University

   Thousands of sick horses were brought to the École Royale Vétérinaire de Paris since it opened in 1766 to receive treatment, but few of them were ever referred by name in medical writing. This paper compares three genres of medical writing among eighteenth-century French veterinarians during the first 25 years of the hospital’s existence: the published account of treatment interventions, the hospital’s individualized treatment report, and the autopsy record. Such works reveal distinct ways of fashioning the meaning and importance of animal death in the early decades of state-supported of veterinary medicine. In the published reports, animal death was reduced to mere numbers, and became a mechanism to convey information about the state of veterinary practice, but not about the animals themselves. The hospital records reveal a detailed, meticulous, and experimental approach to determining the new curatives. Horses were framed as emotional creatures, but not as individuals. The autopsy reports, in contrast, were pathos-ridden documents, where creatures had names, experienced suffering and, eventually, release from painful illness. In this paper I argue that this had less to do with the form of writing itself or even human-animal hierarchies, than with its intended audience. Autopsy reports were written exclusively in cases when a king’s horse had died. They functioned as apologetic explanations for why this new state-funded group of healers had failed to keep the Crown’s companions alive. This paper examines how “mattering” is itself a part of the archival logic of human-animal relations, reflecting hierarchies between persons, as well as those between humans and other animals.

Kit Heintzman is currently a fellow at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, PA 

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