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Sven Gins MA

PhD candidate


Area(s) of interest: History of Books, History of the Body, Philosophy, Religious History & Theology

Cohort/Start PhD: 2021-2022

Homo Imperfectus: Animals, Machines, and the Quest for Humanity in Late Mediaeval France


University of Groningen

Promotor(es): Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad (RUG) & Dr Mathilde van Dijk (RUG)

Aanstelling: vanaf oktober 2021


How were nonhuman animals entangled in mediaeval conceptions of humanity? How did such entanglements affect the animals involved? This three-part project furnishes a historical dimension to topical questions about humankind’s exploitation of nature and environmental ethics, based on original historical research. Homo Imperfectus critically examines how fifteenth-century Christian communities conceptualised humanity via the anthropocentric rationalisation, mechanisation, and subjugation of animals. 1) The project’s first part concerns encyclopaedias. Synthesising natural philosophy and theology, these works described animals in terms of their corporeality and cosmological significance. Encyclopaedias were thus prescriptive as they articulated normative parameters about the place of animals within Christian society. 2) This is evident from the prolific production of artificial animals in fifteenth-century Burgundy, studied in the project’s second part. As human counterfeits of God’s creatures, these spectacular automata demonstrated human ingenuity and humans’ capacity to control nature. However, automata also blurred the lines between nature and artifice due to their appearance of artificial life, generating anxieties about humankind’s preordained supremacy. 3) When ‘real’ animals violated the implicit norms of everyday cohabitation—e.g. by harming humans—they similarly destabilised humankind’s arduously constructed identity as master of God’s earth. The project’s third part investigates how Christian communities reinvented everyday interspecies relationalities after such species’ transgressions by prosecuting and executing or anathemising animal offenders. By approaching mediaeval encyclopaedias, automata, and animal trials from an anthropocritical perspective, Homo Imperfectus challenges human exceptionalism and develops new insights into anthropocentrism and its (non)human discontents, past and present, to contribute towards a more sustainable world.