ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Animal Individualities: History-Writing Beyond Species-Thinking


Rajani Shayan - Lahore University of Management Sciences, History, Lahore, Pakistan


17 – More Than Human: Animal-Human Relations in Pre-Modern South Asia


 This paper considers animal histories by exploring the question of animal individualities. Animals are often treated as generic representatives of their species, obscuring their individual and particular histories. However, pre-modern South Asia offers many examples of animal individualities: the antelope Hansraj, for whom Mughal Emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27) built a funerary monument; the auspicious white elephant of Vijayanagara Emperor Deva Raya II (r. 1424-46); Moti and Gardgan, the dogs rescued by Sufi saint Shah Latif Bhittai (d. 1751); and also many horses associated with specific warriors. While animal individualities may appear to be an effect of human epistemologies, I propose that this does not fully account for the presence of animals as unique actors in human history. This paper investigates various human-centered reasons for conferring individuality upon animals, and explores whether there remains still an animal individuality whose source is located outside human culture and knowledge.