Justin Mohler: The Lives of Animals

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Brehms Tierleben

In addition to language instruction at UW this quarter, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to design and teach a new upper-level course for German majors at the University of Puget Sound entitled: “The Lives of Animals”. From ancient cave paintings in France to Voyager’s interstellar whale song, many of our greatest achievements in the arts and sciences have involved representations of non-human animals. The course offered students the chance to collectively explore how, why, and for whom these depictions are created. Drawing on some of the most influential and compelling examples from scientific reference books (Brehms Tierleben), literature (short stories from Tieck, Kleist, and Kafka alongside excerpts from recent novels), film (Die Wand and Grizzly Man), and even music (Käptn Peng & die Tentakel von Delphi), students addressed a series of guiding questions throughout their semester: How do we continue to shape and be shaped by the stories we tell about other animals? How do scientific and artistic representations of animals influence one another? Finally, and perhaps most significantly in the midst of the sixth mass extinction event, what do these narratives suggest about the animal-human divide as traditionally understood?