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.
I have wonderful memories of visiting museums and historical sites on family vacations during childhood. One summer I even spent a week at a camp run by a living history center in New Brunswick, Canada, pretending that I lived in the rural nineteenth century St. John River Valley (a program at Kings Landing – the place deserves some free advertising). So, despite studying biochemistry and chemistry in college, the history bug had burrowed deep. A college course on the history of scientific thought led me to further consider the history of science and how human beings have defined, studied, and interacted with the natural world… And this interest eventually led me to graduate school!
Unlike perhaps most equine historians, I came to equine history through books – and not the Black Stallion series, either. In my first year or so at Notre Dame I stumbled across equine medical treatises from early modern Castile, and realized that studying the treatment of equines in the past would be a fruitful way to address my broader interests about human beings and nature.
Who is your favorite historical horse?
If I may slightly adjust the question, I would instead like to identify my favorite historical mule: a gray mule born about 1547 and purchased by a shoemaker at the San Miguel fair in Nájera in September of 1552. Without too much exaggeration I can say that this was a celebrity mule of the shoemaker neighborhood in Logroño. Alas, the mule met an unfortunate end. I will reveal the full, sad story in my as-yet-in-progress dissertation; or, if you can’t wait, find me on the conference circuit!
What are you working on right now?
At the moment I am finishing my dissertation, which investigates the role of Crown-licensed equine doctors in curing equines in sixteenth-century Castile. Since many Castilians were familiar with equines and how to heal them, what set equine doctors apart? I compare evidence from theoretical equine medical treatises and lawsuits to determine the distinctive status and practices of these equine doctors as they cared for everyday, working animals. I argue that equine doctors were distinct from others who healed these animals because they more explicitly framed their work using learned medical theory, possessed particular legal functions, and performed specialized surgery. Their activities show that human and animal medicine diverged in practice despite shared medical theory. This project will not only be valuable to historians of science and medicine for its examination of lay and learned medical expertise in an Iberian context; what’s also really exciting about my sources is that they allow me to study actual horses, mules, and donkeys from this period. I am able to examine the different types of equine knowledge that people possessed, and how equine treatment varied by the work expected of these animals and economic context. Thus, the project will contribute to a nuanced understanding of human-equine relations during this period, and to conversations about the treatment of domesticated animals, in general.