Open Your Eyes and See the History All Around You: The Importance of Knowing Our Activist History
It is no exaggeration to say that Hilda Kean set me on the path I am on today. Well, to be more specific, one of her books did–it would be several years until I would actually meet Hilda Kean in person! When I was a graduate student in the early 2000s my research was situated in environmental studies but, at that time, the idea of studying and thinking critically about animals was still quite separate from the scholarship being done in environmental studies. I found this somewhat strange and a little frustrating, but then I came across Hilda Kean’s Animal Rights: Political and Social Change in Britain Since 1800. This was the first time that I had read the work of a writer who had taken human-animal relationships seriously as a subject of cultural and historical research. Her influence has been enormous, not just on my own work, but on the fields of animal studies and human-animal history.
For this interview, I arranged to meet Hilda Kean a few summers ago at a vegan cafe in Brighton, UK. When she arrived, she told me that she had almost missed her train because she had awoken to discover a fox in her house that morning! “I don’t see why some people are frightened of foxes,” she calmly said as she recounted the details of what had transpired that morning.
The fox Kean found in her house that morning.
Hearing Kean talk about her encounter with this fox reminded me so much of her writing. In both cases her narrative is framed by a compassionate yet critical inquiry. Her work is grounded by a real concern for thinking about the actual lived experiences of individual animals and she resists historical understandings of human-animal relationships that are informed by clichés or symbolism.
For instance, in one of her recent books, The Great Cat and Dog Massacre: The Real Story of World War Two’s Unknown Tragedy, Kean went to great lengths to learn as many individual stories as she could after the 400,000 cats and dogs in Britain that were killed by their owners at the outbreak of the Second World War. In telling these stories she moves beyond the standard tropes typical in narratives about both this war and of human-animal (and animal-human) bonds. Her meticulous research is grounded in actual events and testimonies and, as such, complicates the narratives we like to tell ourselves about our historical relationships with our companion animals. This is an uncomfortable history and Kean does not shy away from telling it.
Likewise, Animal Rights is a book that looks at the complicated history of animal advocacy in Britain. Kean’s motivation for writing Animal Rights grew out of a sense of frustration about the lack of awareness of activism in previous historical periods.
“It is important to acknowledge that in Britain campaigns for animal rights and animal welfare go back at least to the late 18th and early 19th century,” she stresses. “So, if you like you can say you don’t agree with these ideas, but you can not say that these ideas came from nowhere.”
“These things did happen and they were important.”
Kean underscores how important it is for activists of today to know that “these ideas have not just come out of thin air.” Anti-vivisection, in particular, has a long and complex history in places like Britain, and it was women who were often on the front lines of these fights. Recognizing the work of these reformers from earlier historical periods is important, Kean feels, not only to give credit where credit is due, but also to allow us to take a broader historical perspective on animal advocacy. This can help reframe some of our current struggles to change the world for animals. Kean acknowledges that as we look to this history and realize that some of the fights we are fighting today were also being fought by previous generations of activists it can be “somewhat depressing” at first glance. But Kean stresses that knowing this history also “places things in a broader context of time” to allow us to see how the “ideas and campaigns have been worked through, modified, and emphasized in different ways. They have had some successes over a period of time.”
As a historian, Kean feels it is important to take the full messy, complex narratives of animal advocacy into account. Looking to the past only as a source of “inspirational stories…implies that there were only successes.” There have been, of course, changes for the better. Kean points to the status of companion animals as an example of this, noting “that their lives are better now than they were say in the early 1800s or even in the early 1900s.” With farmed animals, however, she is concerned that things may be “much worse than they were 100 years ago, that moving animals away from fields to inside” has caused even greater concerns for activists.
While Kean is pleased to see so many people working on animal studies topics within academia in recent years, she also sometimes finds it frustrating that this academic work can often be incredibly “esoteric” and seemingly removed from actual animals. For Kean, animal studies is much more than an “academic exercise” and she finds it “quite shocking” that there are some working in this field who “apparently have no interest in living animals.”
Kean also stresses the importance of historians getting up from their desks.
“I don’t think history is all about somebody sitting in a library and writing notes and getting it published in the most prestigious peer-reviewed journal. It is also important to actually look at what is going on in the world.”
Kean embodies this perspective in her own work. For example, during the time she was writing Animal Rights she remembers reading comments in a newspaper that ridiculed animal rights activists who had been protesting the selling of live lobsters. She recalls that the comments were along the lines of “Where do these mad people come from? Fancy doing this about lobsters!” As she was reading about this protest and the public response to it, she couldn’t help but think about the 1829 pamphlet she had found during the course of her research. This pamphlet was “published by what was then the SPCA. It was a campaign about lobsters and the cruel way that lobsters were boiled alive.” As she read the newspaper coverage of the protest in the late 1990s the connections between the 19th century protest and the 20th century protest were obvious to her. “When I’m reading something like that in the newspaper, I’m relating that in my head to other things I’m doing. And it makes me think ‘I have to do something.’ I don’t mean that I have to write to the newspaper necessarily, I mean, I will do that, but it is more around thinking about how to argue the importance of knowing the history of animal rights activism.”
While Kean is passionate about the history of the animal advocacy movement, she is also firmly rooted in the present moment, and keeps a sharp eye out for ways in which human-animal histories remain part of our current environments. “I just see things in the environment that catch my interest.
“I sometimes notice things others don’t because I think most people run around with their eyes shut.”
Walking, looking, and noticing details such as statues or monuments featuring cats, dogs, horses, or other animals are an important part of Kean’s research methods, and her impressive list of published writing on human-animal histories is a testament to how astute she is at this practice. She also spends a lot of time talking to people, asking questions, and thinks critically about how animals and humans would have interacted in previous spaces.
Understanding this kind of context is at the heart of the work that Kean does. For instance, she discusses the Old Brown Dog memorial, a highly controversial monument dedicated to a dog who was killed in a vivisection laboratory in 1903. During the early 20th century this memorial statue became a touchstone for ongoing debates about animal experimentation until the decision was made to remove it from the Latchmere gardens completely. In 1985 a replacement statue was placed in nearby Battersea Park, but, as Kean points out, the new statue was within the park and this was significant. The placement of the original statue was highly political. As Kean notes, it was “in the middle of a model housing estate for workers. This was a socialist area at the time. So, the location of the statue very much brought across the politics of it, the alignment of ordinary people and animals.” This historical connection is not immediately apparent with the new memorial statue having been placed there just before the demise of the socialist Greater London Council (GLC). This is the kind of attention to detail that informs all of Kean’s work.
“We need to consider these things in their social and cultural contexts.”
When I asked Kean about the kind of advice she would give other writers and scholars who want to make a difference for animals, she replied that “it is really just thinking about what you want to do, and if you want to do things that privilege the position of animals, you just do it.” I couldn’t agree more.
Thank you, Hilda, for all you have done for animals and for the field of animal history.
Images courtesy of Hilda Kean, Rosa Harvest and Jo-Anne McArthur. Interview and story by Keri Cronin.
“I always say that I lead with the carrot and
not the stick, quite literally.”
In many ways, the food industry is still a man’s world. But while hatted restaurants and celebrity chef titles are dominated by men, it’s often women who are changing the game when it comes to food innovation and accessibility.
Veganism is the fastest-growing food movement, and it’s more than just a trend. Plant-based eating is here to stay, and women are leading the charge. Through innovative and delicious vegan cooking, baking, cheese-making, plant-based meats and nutritional education, women are transforming the way we think about food, our health, and our relationships with other animals.
With creativity and purpose, women are setting the agenda for the plant-based food movement, and, with their out-of-this-world social media smarts, are bringing compassionate eating into kitchens everywhere. In their hands, food becomes a means of powerful activism, inspiring people around the world to rethink their food choices and habits, and changing the world for animals in the process.
Meet eight women changing the world for animals through food:
Lauren Toyota/Hot For Food
Lauren Toyota. Photo by: Vanessa Heins
Hot For Food has been cooking up a storm around the world. The woman behind the movement, Lauren Toyota, loves creating vegan versions of classic comfort foods – think mac and cheese, saucy burgers, and even cheesecake! Toyota is bringing veganism into the mainstream and proving plant-based food is far from boring.
I always say just do it. Whatever dream or idea you have, just start. Take a step in the direction of your dreams. There’s room for everyone and we need as many advocates as we can get. So stop thinking about it and just take action!
Anna Pippus of Instagram account @easyanimalfree is all about keeping things simple – no complicated recipes or hours of prepping; just home-cooked meals thrown together using what’s on hand and what’s in season. Rather than another book of complicated recipes, Pippus saw a need for people to know how to throw a quick meal together, use leftovers and in-season produce, and have a sense of foods that go well together. She uses social media to share her personal recipes and lifestyle tips, and shares stories from her own life raising a vegan family.
It’s hard to underestimate the role of food in farmed animal advocacy. I believe that our movement will be won on food first, not ethics. It’s starting to happen now! My goal is to teach people how to feed themselves and their families — if they have them — simple and delicious plant-based food!
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau. Photo courtesy of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
Twenty years ago, Colleen Patrick-Goudreau was a young activist leafleting and organising animal rights demonstrations. Today, she is the award-winning author of several books, host of two podcasts, and is a thought leader on the culinary, social, ethical, and practical aspects of living compassionately and healthfully.
I believe that when we change the way we think about and perceive other animals, we change the way we treat them.
On top of her work as a private chef, Day Radley is an educator, spreading her love of healthy vegan eating by teaching professional chefs plant-based food and presenting cooking demonstrations around the United Kingdom. Her food is the perfect combination of nutritious and delicious, teaching that compassionate eating can be for everyone.
I always say that I lead with the carrot and not the stick, quite literally. This approach shifts the focus from a negative where you talk about animal abuse. Many people can shut down with the discussion of what is really happening to animals in farming. But everyone is open to seeing great food pictures and being inspired in the kitchen.
Growing up in a family of vegetarians in South Africa, Tammy Fry was surrounded by the plant-based meats of The Fry Family Food Co., now known around the world for its home-style meat alternatives. With a passion for empowering others to live happier, more energetic lifestyles, Fry shares recipes, lifestyle tips and plant-based advocacy ideas through her Seed blog and workshops.
The question is not ‘can you make a difference?’ You already do. It’s just a matter of what kind of difference you choose to make. Go out there and make positive change happen!
Lynda Turner with Carla and Eddy. Photo courtesy of Lynda Turner.
As a scientist, Lynda Turner had always been interested in health and how lifestyle choices affect our health. After switching to a vegan diet eight years ago, Turner realized that there was a need for more convenient vegan options and started experimenting with making plant-based cheeses. After encouragement from her (very non-vegan) friends and family, she founded Fauxmagerie Zengarry to offer satisfying non-dairy cheese options and she hasn’t looked back since!
In an industry that is brand new, there is no recipe to follow. I have had to figure things out as I went along… If people have more amazing vegan options that are easy, convenient and readily available, my hope is that more people will make more educated and compassionate dietary choices on a daily basis. Every choice counts.
In 2011, Erin founded her Vancouver-based bakery wholesaler, To Die For Fine Foods, and turned the whole company vegan soon after. Today, Vancouver vegans don’t need to go out of their way to find to die for baked goods because they’re in just about every neighbourhood, and non-vegans are discovering in droves that modern vegan food is every bit as delicious as its traditional counterparts. Ireland also organizes community events like book clubs and movie screenings to help people learn about what is happening to animals and how a plant-based, compassionate lifestyle can make a difference.
Every day, I wake up and think about the countless sentient animals who are being used by humans unnecessarily, against their will. My heart bleeds for these incredible creatures who are intelligent and intuitive in ways we can’t possibly understand. I dream of peace on Earth, which won’t be achieved until our world is vegan.
Latham Thomas is a sought-after wellness guru and doula, helping women to have the best pregnancy, birth, and mothering experience possible. She was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul 100, and is the founder of Mama Glow, which offers inspiration, education, and holistic services for expectant and new mamas. She teaches self-care practices to help women live their best, plant-based lives.
Lind af Hageby, centre front. The other women in this photograph are: Mrs. Clinton Pichney Farrell, Mrs. L.B. Henderson, Mrs. Florence Pell Waring, Mrs. Caroline E. White, and Mrs. R.G. Ingersol.
In July 1909 police in London informed the organizers of an anti-vivisection protest that they could not use two of the banners that had been made for the event. In both cases the images on the banners showed a dog being subjected to experimentation. The organizers made sure to point out that these images had been taken directly from publications which promoted animal experimentation. In other words, the organizers of the protest felt that it was important to underscore the fact that these images were not fabricated representations but, rather, were adapted directly from vivisection material. There was “no exaggeration” in these images stressed Louise (“Lizzy”) Lind af Hageby, the organizer of the International Anti-Vivisection and Animal Protection Congress, a multi-day event which included this high-profile public demonstration through the streets of London on Saturday, July 10, 1909.
The police were concerned that the images on these banners could potentially stir up trouble by provoking a “turbulent element” and potentially “lead to riotous proceedings.” Of particular concern was a silk banner that included an image taken from a scientific journal showing a dog who had been subject to experimentation. This image was accompanied by the words “Is it nothing to you all ye that pass by?”
This image was reproduced on one of the prohibited banners for the July 1909 procession.
A lively debate about these banners took place in the “Letters to the Editor” columns of the London papers. Dr. Stephen Paget of the Research Defence Society, a pro-vivisection organization, described the use of these images in this way as a “striking exhibition of insult and hatred” on the part of the activists, and argued that anti-vivisection societies must be losing their support amongst the general public if they were attempting to use shock tactics to draw attention to their cause. Lind af Hageby refuted this, noting that these images were not the “invention of anti-vivisectionists.”
In the end, the police’s decision to prohibit these banners was upheld. However, as a protest to this ruling, one of the forbidden banners was draped with another piece of cloth to hide the offending image, and the resulting blank banner was carried defiantly at the end of the procession.
I find this to be such a fascinating example of the role of visual culture in the animal advocacy movement from this time period! Images can, of course, draw attention to important issues, but imagine the power that this blank banner had in this context. The absence of imagery here was likely as powerful as any pictorial banner in the procession – perhaps even more so. As one eye-witness pointed out, if an image is deemed to “be of such revolting character that it cannot be carried through the streets,” then isn’t this a powerful argument against the action being depicted? As I often remind my students, when it comes to visual culture it is important to remember that what is excluded is often as significant as what is included. In this case, the blank banner was a bold statement against both vivisection and censorship, and certainly a clever use of visual culture by Lind af Hageby and her colleagues.
*I discuss this event as well as the use of visual culture in other animal advocacy campaigns from this time period in my new book, Art for Animals.
 “The Anti-Vivisection Procession” The Times (July 8, 1909), 3.
 “Prohibited Banners” The Standard (July 3, 1909), 8.
 “Anti-Vivisection Processions” The Times (July 9, 1909), 4.
 “The Anti-Vivisection Procession” The Times (July 8, 1909), 3.
 “The Anti-Vivisection Agitation” Saturday Review of Politics, Art, Literature, Science and Art (July 17, 1909), 83.
“Most people… tend to be ignorant of the processes by which food reaches their table, or if not ignorant they find it more comfortable to forget.”
M any activists can point to a single moment that changed their lives—a photograph, a movie, a conversation, or a chance encounter that forced them to think differently about the world around them. For British activist Ruth Harrison (1920-2000), that moment took place in 1961 when she was handed a pamphlet outlining how animals were treated in Britain’s factory farming system. Like many people, Harrison hadn’t thought much about modern, industrial farming methods prior to receiving this campaign literature from an activist who had been leafletting with an organization known as “Crusade Against All Cruelty to Animals.”
Harrison was deeply shocked by what she saw in this leaflet and this compelled her to take action. As a recent biographer noted, “despite being a vegetarian, she reasoned that, although she did not eat them, she still had a responsibility towards animals.” Harrison began to research the claims made in the pamphlet to find out the truth about factory farming for herself. What she discovered was worse than she could have imagined; reading about things like veal crates and battery cages filled her with horror and dismay. She described factory farming as “production line methods applied to the rearing of animals, of animals living out their lives in darkness and immobility without a sight of the sun, of a generation of men who see in the animal they rear only its conversion factor into human food.” Harrison felt driven to share her findings with a broader audience, reasoning that if she had not known about the reality of industrial farming then many other people likely didn’t either.
Ruth Harrison, by Brittany Brooks (illustration commissioned for The Unbound Project)
In 1964 Harrison published Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming System. This book was meticulously researched and included details of things that Harrison had witnessed on her fact-finding missions to various farms across Britain. She was inspired by Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking work Silent Spring, a shocking account of the health and environmental effects of pesticide use. She was so inspired by Carson’s work, in fact, that she wrote to her and asked if she would write the foreword to Animal Machines. Even though the two women didn’t know one another, Carson agreed because she understood the importance of this project.
Animal Machines also included a number of photos illustrating the ways in which animals were raised, confined, and killed on factory farms. Many were taken by Ruth’s husband, Dex. Harrison realized that part of the reason that so many people blindly accepted the treatment of farmed animals was that the marketing of meat, dairy, and eggs drew heavily on idealized images of farms as peaceful places where animals are treated well. She wrote:
“Farm produce is still associated with mental pictures of animals browsing in fields and hedgerows, of cows waiting patiently in picturesque farmyards for the milking, of hens having a last forage before going to roost or sheep being rounded up by zealous dogs, and all the family atmosphere embracing the traditional farmyard. This association of ideas is cleverly kept alive by the giants of the advertising world who realize that the public still associates quality with healthy surroundings. A picture of the close-tethered veal calf standing uncomfortably on slats in its gloomy crate, the battery hen cramped in the cage, the closely packed, inert mass of pigs on the floor of the sweat-box piggery, or the sea of broilers in their dim shed, would not, they rightly surmise, help to sell their products.”
The photographs in Animal Machines, then, played a powerful role in interrupting this advertising fantasy.
The publication of Animal Machines sparked a powerful reaction. It led the British government to order an investigation into factory farming practices. Because of her ground-breaking work in this area, Harrison was invited to be part of the team undertaking this work. The results of this investigation were made public in 1965, leading to major changes in animal welfare (e.g.: the concept of the “five freedoms” for farmed animals stemmed from this initiative). The following year, the Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, another government initiative, was struck and, once again, Ruth Harrison was invited to be part of this committee. The discussions and findings of these committees led to a new farm animal welfare law, The Agriculture (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, which came in to effect in Britain in 1968.
Ruth Harrison remained involved with animal advocacy work for the rest of her life, taking on consulting roles with such organizations as the Animal Defence Society, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Her groundbreaking work is often overshadowed in the history of animal welfare/rights—as Carol J. Adams points out in the guest essay she wrote for the Unbound Project, it is important that we recognize the efforts of Harrison and of all of the women who worked so hard for animals in the early days of organized animal advocacy.
Notes  Heleen van de Weerd and Victoria Sandilands, ‘Bringing the Issue of Animal Welfare to the Public: A Biography of Ruth Harrison (1920–2000)’, Applied Animal Behaviour Science 113, no. 4 (2008): 405.  Ruth Harrison, Animal Machines: The New Factory Farming Industry (New York: Ballantine Books, 1964), 15.  Ibid., 16.
O ne of the threads running through the Unbound Project is a celebration of women who have made a difference for animals in previous eras. So often their stories are forgotten over time, and we want to change that. We want to celebrate these women and share their stories with the world. We were absolutely thrilled when we received a grant from Brock University that allowed us to hire Brittany Brooks to make a short animated feature about Ada Cole, an English woman who fought against the cruelty of the live horse export industry in the early 20th century.
Ada Cole did not set out to be an activist, but once she came face-to-face with the cruelty of the live export industry she knew she had to do something about it. She was an ordinary citizen who took matters in to her own hands. She witnessed cruelty and refused to look away. Cole used photography and film to document what she saw and hoped that the resulting images would get others to join her campaign against these cruel practices. As one might expect, she did not receive a warm welcome from those working in the live export industry and her efforts to take pictures were often thwarted. Cole hired a painter named Kurt Peiser to go undercover dressed as a dock worker so that he could sketch and paint what he was seeing as horses were unloaded from the ships that had sailed from England to Belgium.
Given the prevalence of visual encounters (witnessing, photography, film, art) in this story, we knew that we wanted to tell it in a very visually appealing way. We think that Brittany’s work is a perfect fit for The Unbound Project!
Brittany created over 100 hand painted water colour pieces for this animation and those paintings were then animated in Adobe After Effects.
We asked Brittany to tell us a bit about her involvement with this project.
Was there something about Ada Cole’s story that really stood out for you when you were doing research for this project?
I was immediately drawn into Ada Cole’s story because of her ambition and determination. In a day and age when women did not even have the right to vote, Ada was driven to better the world for animals. I also found her story very inspiring because she used her camera as a tool of social justice. As a visual artist, it was exciting to see Ada use photographs and paintings to show the truth that people chose to ignore.
What did you learn by doing this project?
Before this project I had never heard of Ada Cole so I was very keen to begin researching her. Not only was I unfamiliar with her story, but I was also unaware of the way in which animals were being treated in the late 19th century. I learned how important activists like Ada were at this time who chose to question vivisection practices and were interested in animal welfare.
From a technical perspective, I learned many new animation techniques that I had never experimented with before. I used a process that required both analogue and digital methods. I began by using the research I had conducted to create a storyboard outlining the key points of Ada’s story. I then hand-painted all of the characters, backgrounds and scenery using gouache and scanned them into Photoshop where I separated each element from it’s background.
Using Adobe After Effects I was able to digitally animate the elements by layering and mapping their movement paths. Since I had never used a digital technique like this before I relied heavily on After Effects video tutorials and online forums. Combining my previous analogue animation experience and these new digital techniques I was able to create this work using an entirely new approach.
How important is art in connecting viewers with the past?
I think that art actualizes the past and is an invitation for viewers to look at a historical moment through a new lens. With Ada Cole’s story, information was not very easy to find and this required me to do some deep research. Hopefully this artwork will make Ada’s story more accessible and present viewers with a snapshot of her life and work in a via visuals and sounds.
What do you see as being the connection between art and activism/social justice?
Both artists and activists question boundaries and challenge cultural issues. Art becomes even more powerful when it is used as a tool of social justice as it acts as a vehicle that empowers individuals and communities. Art belongs to everyone and helps give a voice to those who want to share the truth and advocate for what they believe.
Why was this a project that you wanted to take on?
There were many reasons I signed up for this special project. It began by being very inspired by the mission of the Unbound Project and my desire to help celebrate these women who are interested in animal welfare.I listened to Jo-Anne McArthur give a lecture on her work and was absolutely taken by how powerful her photographs are. I also enjoyed that Unbound was a multimedia project and was open to using a variety of mediums and art forms to share these stories. I am so excited to be a part of Unbound, as it was a huge learning opportunity and a wonderful new challenge for me as an artist and activist.
Brittany Brooks is a multidisciplinary artist who splits her time between St. Catharines and Toronto, ON. Her practice includes, but is not limited to; visual art, performance and music. Brittany recently earned her undergraduate degree from Brock University, majoring in Studio Art. She has participated in residencies at Spark Box Studios, White Rabbit Arts, and The Green Belt Gallery which cultivated her solo exhibition Rutabager and her original handmade layered projection show The Fireside Book of Fictitious Folk Songs. Her band Creature Speak released a full length album Shadow Songs, which has since drawn international praise from Bandcamp, Bitch-Media, Exclaim, Folk Radio UK and more. She is a Jr. Programmer for the In the Soil Arts Festival and is currently working at the Art Museum at The University of Toronto.