Michael Glover, Cattle and colonialism: an animal-centred history of southern Africa 1652 to 1960s

For this PhD project, a cotutelle with the University of the Free State is in place.

This thesis operates beyond a humanist paradigm by focussing its historical investigation on cattle. It is cattle-centred.

The thesis poses the question: what were the major subjective and collective impacts of colonialism in southern Africa on cattle? Informed by myriad scientific and social science developments that recognise animals as sentient beings, the project conceives of cattle as subjects, as centre of experience who have minds and emotions, and who were thus were capable of being subjectively and collectively impacted by colonial systems in the region. The thesis explores different major impacts of colonialism including early colonial encounters such as their capture and subjugation as wagon pullers, major disease epidemics and corresponding veterinary regimes and biomedical control, the development of industrial slaughterhouses and animal flesh markets, and the expansion of breeding programmes. The impacts are explored in terms of how they subjectively affected cattle, and how they affected cattle as groups.

The thesis draws on diverse archival material from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini, Zimbabwe, and the UK. These materials are supplemented by research from fields including animal welfare science, philosophy, psychology, neurology, zoology, anthropology and linguistics. A fieldwork component, which involved spending a month observing and photographing a herd of free-roaming Nguni cattle in South Africa, was undertaken to get an experiential and empathetic sense of cattle as subjects. Archival material is employed in conjunction with these other forms of knowledge to creatively explore cattle’s historical experiences of colonialism. This approach opens news vistas for understanding the past as a not exclusively human affair and draws our attention to the ineluctable relationships humans have with the natural world and the other sentient species.



Researcher supervising: 
External supervisors: 
Prof. Ian Phimister, University of the Free State
Dr Ana Amaral
Dr Rebecca Swartz, University of the Free State
Project status: 
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