Animal studies is a recently recognized field in which animals are studied in a variety of cross-disciplinary ways. Scholars from fields as diverse as: art history, anthropology, biology, film studies, geography, history, psychology, literary studies, museology, philosophy, and sociology; and from various theoretical perspectives, including: feminism, marxist theory, and queer theory, seek to understand both human-animal relations now and in the past, and to understand animals as beings-in-themselves separate from our knowledge of them. Because the field is still developing, scholars ...view middle of the document...
M. Coetzee's novel, The Lives of Animals.
Cultural historians take a different approach, studying how representations of animals create understandings (and misunderstandings) of other species. To what extent do we anthropomorphize animals? How can humans avoid bias in observing animals? For instance, Donna Haraway's book, Primate Visions, examines how dioramas created for the American Museum of Natural History showed family groupings that conformed to the traditional human nuclear family, which misrepresented the animals' observed behavior in the wild. Conversely, people often mistakenly identify with animals, believing that they understand the thought processes of other species. This is the theme of Werner Herzog's documentary film Grizzly Man, in which bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell believed that he was part of the bear community and understood the mindsets and social hierarchies of the bears he documented, only to be killed by a bear at the end of the film. Given the complexity of human-animal relations, one aspect of animal studies is to emphasize that animals are very like us, and yet not at all like us, in interesting ways. As Claude Lévi-Strauss's famous dictum puts it, "animals are good to think."