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Table of contents

No. 15 - Volume 11 (2023)
History in Rubber Boots
Edited by Beat Bächi

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Beat Bächi: Geschichte in Gummistiefeln: Nutztierkörper.
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This introduction has three key points as its subject. The first is the conflict between theoretical approaches and source-based case analyses of body history. The second is the central shift in the history of the body from letting live and making die to letting die and making live. Thirdly, this means that the bodies of farm animals do not enter the historical analysis from their end – hence as meat –, but from the point of view of making life, hence as living organisms. The aim is to outline how a body history of living farm animals can provide new perspectives for analysing the transformation of living bodies not only externally, but also under the skin or coat, in the animals’ muscles and their behaviour. In addition, this editorial offers an overview of the contributions collected in this thematic issue.


Beat Bächi: Nutztiere im Anthropozän. Zur Produktion von Gesundheit und Krankheit im Schweinestall.
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Since the seemingly uniform massification and industrialisation of livestock affected the different animal species quite differently, this perspective section takes a look into the Swiss pigsties. First it tries to understand why farmers began in the 1950s to feed antimicrobial growth promoters to their pigs and how these new substances transformed the metabolism of the pigs. With the massification of pig production, new diseases were then produced in the barn, the so-called production diseases. When looking at new ways to sanitize entire pig herds by different methods it becomes apparent that indoor pig housing was by no means inevitable. Besides the dream of a germ-free life, this had to do with new ideas of naturalness, healthy farming systems, hygiene, and productive living. Especially through the re-breeding from fat pigs to modern meat pigs, stress manifested itself not only in the social coexistence of the pigs, but also in their insides, in their muscles and in their behaviour. While the pig health service long believed that it had the disease situation somewhat under control in view of the diseases narrowed down to stable epidemics, the stable epidemics then expanded again into area epidemics in the 1980s. But not only the new epidemics became a relevant problem, but the conversion of the pigs' excreta from valuable soil food to waste also created new environmental problems. In a summarising perspective, it is shown at the end to what extent the pigs' bodies had changed in a very concrete way and what they can tell us about collective human-animal transformation processes.


Isabelle Schürch: Der Körper des Pferdes und das Geschick des Pflegers: One Medicine im spätmittelalterlichen Marstall.
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Drawing on the history of knowledge and social history, this article asks about the body-oriented equine-human interactions which constituted late medieval horse care in the context of «one medicine». To this end, the article traces the barely visible traces of hippatric «care practitioners» and their equine patients in order to present practices of late medieval equine medicine beyond a text-based tradition of knowledge reaching far back into antiquity and to understand them as historically specific routines in dealing with horses. Such a praxeological approach takes the corporeality of both equine patients and human medical experts seriously and shares the concern to understand animal history also as body history. In this sense, this article argues for a twofold body-historical approach: the therapeutic interaction between the human caregiver and the sick animal body can be understood as a genuinely human-animal body history. In a concluding synopsis, the results are then put into perspective with regard to a new concept of equine care that could help to historically grasp violent forms of medical and therapeutic intervention: «violent care».

Juri Auderset / Hans-Ulrich Schiedt: Die Vermessung des animalischen Motors. Körpergrössen, Zugkraft und Metabolismus der Arbeitstiere, 1800–1950.
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Working animals were an integral and important part of economic production systems in many parts of Europe during the 19th and up to the mid-20th century. Horses, oxen, donkeys, cattle, and dogs provided muscular energy, draft power and intellectual skills for countless farming and draft operations and were thus highly versatile and mobile prime movers in the agricultural and transportation economy. Given this ubiquity of working animals in 19th and 20th century societies, it comes as no surprise that they increasingly became an object of practical study, measurement, scientific observation, and intervention. This contribution explores how the body size of working animals changed in time as a result of a complex interplay between breeding, zootechnical interventions, feeding practices, and adaptation to changing economic and social circumstances. It traces how the animal body, its size, its tractive force, and its metabolism attracted considerable scientific and practical attention from farmers, engineers, zoologists, agricultural scientists, and veterinarians who tried to come to terms with the idiosyncrasies of what they increasingly perceived as the ‘organic motors’ and ‘animal machines’ on which the functioning of the industrializing economies of the 19th and early 20th centuries depended.

Ulrike Heitholt: „Schön ist, was Schönes leistet“. Zum Zusammenspiel von Körperform, Gesundheit und Leistungsfähigkeit in der Rinderzucht des 19. Jahrhunderts.
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In the middle of the 19th century, cattle breeding became increasingly important in the German states. Through breeding, the performance of the animals (milk and meat) should be improved, i.e. increased. This article traces how in academic animal breeding the performance requirements for cattle bodies were linked to the health and also beauty of the animals. These criteria were to be read off the bodies themselves by measuring the bodies with the help of special instruments. In this way, traditional criteria of assessment were transformed into an apparently objective, scientific method according to the understanding of the time. Finally, another criterion was linked to the body of the cattle, its performance, health and beauty, which would eventually become the determining category in cattle breeding: breed.

Christian Zumbrägel: Von glotzäugigen Karpfen und taumelkranken Forellen. Die Frühphase der deutschen Aquakultur zwischen rationeller Fischzucht und Fischkrankheiten (1890-1930).
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Research in river and fisheries history has focused on the development of “scientific aquaculture” as an intellectual and global phenomenon. Historians examined how progressive “fish culturists” introduced artificial breeding of trout and carp as a scientific method that expanded across continents and inland waters at the end of the nineteenth century. However, little is known about what the development of a modern science of aquaculture actually meant for practices of fish farming. This article delves into the beginnings of German aquaculture around 1900 and sheds light on specific fish hatcheries to examine how the bodies of fish interacted with the socio-technical conditions in their artificial habitats. To demonstrate these entanglements between humans, technologies, animals and the environment, the paper integrates approaches from environmental history with perspectives from multispecies studies. In this way, the unanticipated complications of fish farming practices come to the fore – such as predators and fish diseases, which repeatedly imposed limits on efforts of a rationally fish breeding. In so doing, the article reveals the great gap of fish farming in ponds between early German aquaculture and claims of “scientific aquaculture”.

Veronika Settele: Bodies Made Agriculture: How Animals Shaped Intensive Livestock Farming.
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During the emergence and spread of intensive animal agriculture in the second half of the twentieth century, agricultural politicians, farmers, animal breeders, behavioral biologists, and veterinarians successfully worked on animals whose bodies produced more and more milk, meat, and eggs in less and less time. This paper examines the role of animal bodies as a force for this industrialization in the liberal democracy of West Germany and the socialist GDR. Behavioral patterns of cattle, pigs, and chickens that correlated with farm management and return on investment influenced the design of barns, practices of animal handling, and agrarian knowledge production – in both German states. In the democratized media society of West Germany, mediated animal bodies in films, newspaper articles, and in court cases additionally linked husbandry to the longstanding modern animal welfare discourse since the 1970s, thereby altering consumer values. The paper argues for a body-history approach to decipher the mutual entanglement of human-animal coexistence, even in settings where humans unquestionably subordinated animals under their interests.

Barbara Wittmann: Der Faktor Erinnerung: Innerlandwirtschaftliche Perspektiven auf das Verschwinden von multispecies contact zones im Schweinestall.
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The article is based on qualitative interviews with conventional farmers who work in the field of intensive livestock farming. It examines intra-occupational experiences and interpretations using the example of the historical development of slatted floor systems for pig rearing. This includes the physical effects on both humans as well as non-human actors. The interviewees’ narratives, reveal the great significance of intra-professional memory cultures as well as tensions between subjective practical knowledge and animal welfare positions. This is especially visible when contrasted with the experiences of farmers who have shifted to straw bedding. The system in question has developed from stables as multispecies contact zones to an ideal of a hygienic non-contact zone that is as sterile and labor efficient as possible. The focus on the physical aspects within this system reveals one-sided perspectives and rehearsed defensive arguments of a professional group that has felt stigmatized by society for decades. At the same time, it becomes obvious that a deeper scientific examination of the daily work demands of intensive livestock farmers is necessary, that would go beyond the black-and-white divisions often found in discourses on agricultural developments.

Open Section

Ulrike Lang / Jan Arend: Global Yoga in Eastern Europe. Tracing Cultural Brokers in Socialist Czechoslovakia and Poland.
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This paper investigates the transmission and institutionalization of modern yoga in socialist Czechoslovakia and Poland between the 1960s and 1980s, analyzing the roles played by “cultural brokers” (B. Hauser) Milada Bartoňová and Tadeusz Pasek. The analysis pursues a dual purpose: firstly, to enrich research on connections between socialist Europe and the Global South, shedding light on hitherto overlooked transmissions of ideas of health and spirituality; secondly, to bridge a gap in yoga studies by turning to the as yet understudied case of state-socialist societies. In so doing, the article reveals the malleability of socialist cultures and their ability to integrate cultural patterns that were seemingly at odds with state-socialist ideology. Through the cases of Bartoňová and Pasek, we illustrate how individual actors both interacted with yoga schools in India and aligned yoga with socialist agendas at home while accommodating the practice’s ideological ambiguities. The paper concludes that biopolitical concerns of preserving workforce productivity in advanced modernity fostered the popularity of psychophysical practices such as yoga in societies of both the Western and Eastern blocs, thus exemplifying modern yoga’s adaptability to diverse normative frameworks.