Event—Scholarly Seminars

Lynn Festa, Rutgers University


The Work of Political Animals: Eighteenth-Century Representations of the Beaver

Lynn Festa

The Work of Political Animals: Eighteenth-Century Representations of the Beaver

This paper focuses on eighteenth-century British and French representations of that most industrious of New World creatures: the beaver. European travelers, natural historians, and philosophers were fascinated by tales of the intricate dams and lodges constructed by these proverbially busy beasts, devising elaborate accounts of the division of labor and forms of social and political organization behind the engineering of these large-scale public works. Even as anthropomorphic depictions of the beaver naturalized models of political sovereignty and colonial usurpation in the New World, they raised questions about the capacities of humans and animals, the instrumental use of bodies, and the thresholds between political and bare life. Drawing on travel narratives, natural histories, philosophical writings, and maps, I examine the work performed by these political animals in eighteenth-century European accounts of human “progress” in the face of colonial conquest and global modernity.

Lynn Festa is Professor of English at Rutgers University. She is the author of Fiction Without Humanity: Person, Animal, Thing in Early Enlightenment Literature and Culture (Penn, 2019) and Sentimental Figures of Empire in Eighteenth-Century Britain and France (Johns Hopkins, 2006). With Daniel Carey, she co-edited The Postcolonial Enlightenment: Eighteenth-Century Colonialism and Postcolonial Theory (Oxford, 2009).


This event is free, but all participants must register in advance. This meeting will be a lecture format. No paper is being circulated.


About the Eighteenth-Century Studies Seminar

The Newberry Library Eighteenth-Century Seminar, sponsored by the Center for Renaissance Studies, is designed to foster research and inquiry across the scholarly disciplines in eighteenth-century studies. It aims to provide a methodologically diverse forum for work that engages ongoing discussions and debates along this historical and critical terrain. Each year the seminar sponsors one public lecture followed by questions and discussion, and two works-in-progress sessions featuring pre-circulated papers.

The seminar is organized by Timothy Campbell (University of Chicago), Lisa A. Freeman (University of Illinois at Chicago), Richard Squibbs (DePaul University), and Jason Farr (Marquette University).


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