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University of Iowa News Release

Feb. 28, 2005

UI Researchers To Explore 'Articulating the Animal' In Obermann Fall Semester

As the Great Ape Project opens in Des Moines and the University of Iowa recovers from the attack on animal research facilities in Spence Laboratories, scholars at the UI Obermann Center for Advanced Studies are preparing to study the many roles animals play in our culture.

Six UI researchers have been selected to participate in the Obermann Center's fall 2005 Interdisciplinary Research Semester, "Articulating the Animal." The semester-long program, established in 2002, brings together scholars working on similar topics in diverse disciplines. In weekly discussions of participants' developing projects, members are challenged to break through conventions of their home disciplines in order to produce new, synthetic knowledge, said Jay Semel, Obermann Center director.

Jane Desmond and Teresa Mangum, both associate professors in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will direct the Articulating the Animal Research Semester. Their goal is to bring together scientists who study animals, artists who represent animals and humanities and social science scholars who examine representations of animals or analyze human and animal interaction.

Desmond, associate professor of American Studies and associate dean of International Programs, will complete "Extending our Senses: Robotics and Rover," a chapter of her book "Displaying Death/Animating Life: Fictions of Liveness from Taxidermy to Animatronics." The chapter explores the use of animals as ways of extending human bodily capabilities (for example search and rescue, seeing eye and hearing dogs) and the relationship between the conceptualization of sensory perception and the development of robotic prostheses.

Mangum, associate professor of English and International Programs, is writing a book on the emotional connections between animals and humans in the 19th-century that inspired both novels like "Black Beauty" and organizations like the Society for the Protection of Animals. She will write an article, "The Melancholy Mammal: Victorian Theories of Animal Emotions."

Joining Desmond and Mangum will be Kim Marra, associate professor of theatre arts and American studies, Mary Trachsel, associate professor of rhetoric and Ed Wasserman, professor of psychology, all in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Pamela Trimpe, a curator at the UI Museum of Art.

Marra plans a study of women and horses on the American stage. Focused on the nation's cultural capital, New York City, during the Golden Age of U.S. theatre (before its eclipse by talking cinema) and of the horse (before its eclipse by the automobile), the study examines female and equine performance in three highly influential arenas that shared audiences -- Broadway theatre, the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden and the Belmont Park Racetrack.

Trachsel will explore the ethical dimensions of apes and language instruction. Her project examines human anxieties, hopes and desires in response to the suggestion that humans are not alone in "personhood," that is, having intellectual powers superior to other animals.

Trimpe is planning an exhibition of 18th- and 19th-century paintings of animals. The exhibition, "Bovine Portraits: Victorian Big Beasts and the Origins of Biogenetics," will be the first survey of the genre of large animal portrait painting that flourished in Britain between the 1760s and the early-1900s. It will offer a look back on the British hope of the future of selective breeding and forward to the logical extension of genetic engineering to feed an expanding world population.

Wasserman will continue his work on animal intelligence, investigating the intelligence of great apes at the Great Ape Trust of Iowa. He will focus on the apes' ability to learn abstract same-different concepts by giving them tasks in which they must respond to general relations between or among stimuli, rather than specific attributes of each stimulus. Because some of the apes are highly skilled in a symbolic communication system and others are not, he will be able to determine whether their same-different behavior is affected by language.

Earlier Research Semester topics were "Sounding the Voice" (Spring 2004) and "Sex, Economics, Politics: Sexuality as a Social Phenomenon" (Fall 2002.)

Participants in the Interdisciplinary Research Seminar receive a course reduction, $1,500 apiece for discretionary research expenses, and funding for a speaker series or symposium. They are selected through a competitive review and with the approval of their department chairs and Deans. Funding for the Interdisciplinary Research Semester is provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research, the Office of the Provost, and the C. Esco and Avalon L. Obermann Fund.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

MEDIA CONTACT: Mary Geraghty Kenyon, 319-384-0011, mary-kenyon@uiowa.edu.