Animals play a starring role in human history; their presence is ever so ubiquitous that it would be remiss of – and is impossible for – historians to brush animals completely aside should they write about humans. This study concerns itself with writing the history of human-animal relations, pointing out that the fact of animals being “the inarticulate” has propelled us to explore an alternative model for writing the history of animals. To write the history of animals, I propound, is not only to acquire new knowledge about humans through examining the ways in which animals are in close contact with us, but also to challenge from a posthumanist perspective the very status of “the human,” something we have taken for granted but is constructed in opposition to – and is meaningful only in relation to – “the animal.” To achieve this, this study focuses on some prominent documentaries about animals and about human-animal interactions produced from the 1970s onward, a period commonly termed postmodernity, under which humans and animals have further become inextricably intertwined. Documentaries of this ilk should garner academic attention not only because more and more historians have actively engaged in documentary film-making, but also because their narrative resources and historical sources compensate for the shortcomings in historical documents. For those who wish to detail the dynamics of human-animal interactions, they have no option but to take documentaries into serious account in order to bridge the crevasse in the writing of the history of animals.
Sum Sheung Samson Tang, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong