Select Page

Gender and/in Animal History – A Masterclass with Prof. Sandra Swart (Stellenbosch University)

In this Masterclass, Sandra Swart will approach the new field of Animal History through the lens of gender. Swart claims that historically, our understanding of animals was filtered through a lens of our own (various) societies’ views on gender. After all, we are ‘mammals’ because just over two and a half centuries ago, Linnaeus chose to name humans and their relatives after the breast as Mammalia. Gender refers to the relationality of historically and socially co-constructed ways of being – behaviors, expressions, and identities – based on how society imagines sexual biology to operate – and affected by the outside gaze and processes of ‘othering.’ Swart contends that if animals have cultures that change over time, which we can reconstruct, then animals have history. They are, like humans, products of changing environments, shifting socio-political presents, and bio-cultural constellations. Part of exploring this question is the connection between the historically constructed and ever-changing human–animal boundary and the cultural construction of women as closer to animals – for good or bad. While culturally inflected, there has been a widespread myth of the ‘naturally’ dominant male and the compliant and pliant female – reflected in law, social practice, ritual, and religion since at least the Neolithic period – with, of course, a few glaring exceptions. This is true of our animal kin, too. Generally, the stereotypes of the dominant male and passive female have shaped (and been further shaped by) not only the biological and zoological sciences but also the humanities and social sciences. Humans and other animals are entangled in this stereotype because animals have long been seen through anthropocentric eyes that project human qualities upon them, and, equally, animals have enduringly been summoned to be a natural proof of the (human) social order. This entanglement has further entrenched the purportedly essential differences between male and female humans…  the idea that men are naturally evolved to compete for dominance, and women are naturally intended to be submissive and receptive to such alpha males.

In this masterclass, she considers these ideas by focusing on a multi-species more-than-human history. She will also explore whether we can think about animals having gender and how we might study animals in history, including methodological challenges and breakthroughs.

Sandra Swart is one of the leading experts and pioneers in this emerging field of animal history and has published widely on this topic. She researches the socio-environmental history of southern Africa with a focus on the shifting relationship between humans and animals from a cultural perspective. Sandra Swart is also this year’s guest editor of the Yearbook for Women’s History issue on Gender & Animals. The masterclass will be followed up by the book presentation of the then freshly published Yearbook of Women’s History and a Q&A.

The masterclass is open to ReMA students and PhD candidates with an interest in the history of gender and animal history.


13.00 – 13:45             Masterclass (Janskerkhof 2-3, room 019)

13:45 – 14:00             Coffee Break

14:00 – 14:45             Masterclass

14:45 – 15:00             Coffee Break

15:00 – 16:30             Presentation Yearbook of Women’s History 42, ‘Gender and Animal History’ and questions/eye-openers of participants masterclass (Janskerkhof 2-3, room 0.13)

16:30 – 17:30             Drinks

Learning aims and outcomes

Participants will familiarize themselves with the theoretical framework and methodological tools to reconstruct animal histories. They will gain insight into recent debates surrounding the historiography of non-human historical actors and the growing field of human-animal relationships and their relationship to the history of gender. Participants also learn to convert their findings and ideas in a review and are encouraged to express their thoughts and questions during the book presentation and, therefore, are real-life participating in current debates in Gender Studies and Animal History.

Assessment and assignments

In preparation for the masterclass, participants will read the Yearbook of Women’s History called ‘Gender & Animals’, which comes out on April 2, and write a review (1000-1500 words) reflecting on the research questions, methods, and topics discussed in the articles.

Participants also prepare a discussion question or eye-opener that they can briefly explain during the book presentation of the ‘Yearbook of Women’s History: Gender & Animals’ that takes place after the masterclass.

Participants should hand in their review and discussion question/eye-opener before 22 March 2024.


Sandra Swart (eds.) Gender and Animals: The Yearbook Women’s History, Volume 42 (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2024).

Register (-1/19 spaces left)

This course is fully booked. For a spot on the waiting list, contact