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Big Ten Emerging Scholar Series: Emer Vaughn, “My Friends”— Trans-species Empathy in the Natural History Essays of Mary Treat
October 24, 2019 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Mary Treat’s Home Studies in Nature (1885) collected essays previously published in popular periodicals into four parts—birds, insects, carnivorous plants, and flowering plants. The collection includes fascinating efforts to engage readers in sympathetic alliances with ground spiders, as well as engrossing research into the movements of plants and musings on their mental faculties.
My lecture maps out the logic and the implications of Treat’s compelling dramatizations of her research. I argue that she draws on the narrative templates of earlier works of natural history, including those of John James Audubon, while strategically capitalizing on the gendered practices of scientific research in her time. Treat’s embrace of the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, with whom she corresponded about her research, resounds through the essays, ratcheting up the interpretive stakes of the affective alliances and corporeal interactions between Treat and her specimens. Treat’s essays provide, then, an opportunity to explore how the epistemological shift initiated by Darwinism impacted narratives of corporeal experience and human identity.
Emer Vaughn is a PhD candidate at the University of Indiana-Bloomington.