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Animals as Objects and Animals as Signs (completed)

This study of standardisation and visualization of animals examined aesthetic transformations of animals, mammals and birds into objects and signs.

Wild boar tableau. Photo.

Wild boar tableau mounted by Paolo Savi 1824. Copyright: Museo di Storia Naturale e del Territorio, Università di Pisa

About the project

Using the history of culture and science as point of departure, the aim was to analyse how forms of knowledge and knowing are also influenced by cultural ideas, norms and values which take their rationales from art as well as from everyday life. 

By analysing empirical material taken from natural history museums and literature, as well as from everyday life, the project wanted to:

  • Explain the processes that render animals representations for scientific purposes as well as for social practices.
  • Look for connections between natural history representations and the aestheticization of animals that occurs in everyday life. Here principles and ideals for the form that is the basis for the transformation of animals into objects will be a key area of study.
  • Take a critical look at the aestheticization of animals to determine how this affects our appreciation of animals. This leads from a focus on form to a focus on power and control.

By using aestheticization of animals as path to demonstrating connecting lines between nature and culture that have for the most part been ignored in research, the project seeked to promote dialogue between the natural science subjects and cultural subjects.


The aim of the project was to examine relations between nature, culture and aesthetics. Through five subprojects aestheticization in fields where it is not expected to be found was examined, looking for moral, ethical and political conflicts that are inherent or triggered by such aesthetic trans­formations.


Animal Biographies. On the Unnatural History of Animals

Liv Emma Thorsen

The project examined a selection of stuffed animals in Gothenburg Natural HIstory Museum and analyzed them as, respectively, natural history illustrations, cultural representations and actors with a biography.

Animal Celebrities

Guro Flinterud

Human fascination for animals and celebrity has a long history. In my project, I looked at cases where the two are combined: what happens when the fascination for one animal becomes so strong that it is turned into a media celebrity?

Making the Insect World: The Science and Fiction of Entomology

Adam Phillip Dodd

This project examined the cooperation of rhetorical worldmaking and anthropomorphism in the historical portrayal of insects in Western society.

  • Why have we referred to the habitat of insects as "the insect world" since at least the eighteenth century?
  • What happens to the environmental rapport between humans and insects when we think of them as "otherworldly?"
  • What are the similarities and differences between human beings and insects, and which should be emphasised?
  • Are insects more like robots than animals?
  • What is the relationship between microscopy, entomology, and the rise of scientific romance and science fiction?

These are some of the questions addressed in the monograph.

The Poetics of the Natural History Museum Around 1900

Brita Brenna

This project analyzed debates, conflicts and negotiations related to architecture and exhibition in Norwegian natural history museums during the decades around 1900. In addition to the international discourse on museum buildings, exhibition and collection technology was included, particularly paying attention to how the Norwegian museums approach this discourse.

Under the Skin: the inner body language

Siv Frøydis Berg

This project will studied aestheticizations of the inner landscape of the body through different literary and visual presentations that may be related to the vital force debate.

Translating Animals, Judging Cultures

John Ødemark

This project examined whether the relation to animals and nature also can be said to function as an index of the relation to alien cultures.


The project received financial support from the Norwegian Research Council.


"Sentient Creatures"

Conference in cooperation with KULTRANS 

Time: Sep. 16, 2010–Sep. 17, 2010

"Micro-macro: On very small and very big animals"

Open seminar

Time: June 9, 2010


  • Liv Emma Thorsen: Sjölanders elefant(er). In: Göteborgs naturhistoriska museum årstryck 2010, pp. 67-73.
  • Liv Emma Thorsen: The Hippopotamus in Florentine Zoological Museum "La Specola". A discussion of stuffed animals as sources of cultural history. In: Museologica scientifica 21 (2) pp. 269 -281, 2004 (2006)
  • Liv Emma Thorsen: A Fatal Visit to Venice: The Transformation of an Indian Elephant. In: Thora Holmberg (ed): Investigating Human/Animal Relations in Science, Culture and Work. Skrifter från Centrum för genusvetenskap. Uppsala 2009.
  • Brita Brenna: Hva gjør museologi? I: Nordisk museologi 1, 2009, 63-76
  • Liv Emma Thorsen: "...disse tamme Ulves Tuden" - toleranse overfor dyr. I: Den jyske historiker 123, april 2009  
  • Liv Emma Thorsen: Speaking to the Eye: The Wild Boar from San Rossore. In: Nordisk Museologi 2, 2009, 55-80
Published Apr. 9, 2010 12:36 PM - Last modified Apr. 19, 2022 10:52 AM