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Graduate conference 2022

“When They Became Pests: Human & Nonhuman Species AS Vermin in History”

a HYBRID one-day event convened by T.H. Breen Graduate Fellow Guangshuo YANG
Leopold Room, Harris Hall (Rm. 108), 1881 Sheridan Rd., Evanston campus (with in-person and remote papers, livestreamed for a wider audience)

Our views on nonhuman creatures, mythological or scientific, can serve as powerful symbols and metaphors to organize human identities. History is replete with cases of dehumanization that equated targeted groups to vermin and pests: nonhuman species associated with pain, fear, and disgust. The Nazi defamation of Jews as rats, and the Hutu génocidaires’ labeling of Tutsi as cockroaches are two familiar examples. However, we often take for granted the cultural meanings embodied by these nonhuman species and overlook the contingency of the meaning-making process.

Are pests and vermin socially created? If so, what conditioned the creation of such enemy species? How did certain life forms become widely accepted public enemies? Are such notions translatable across cultures? Who had the authority to make such decisions on behalf of the collective interests? How did scientific knowledge and spiritual beliefs about enemy species affect political language, cultural metaphors, social institutions, and vice versa? How did the designation of species enemies affect a culture’s relationship with other human groups, nonhuman animals, and the environment? 

Professor Susan D. JONES of the University of Minnesota was to be the keynote speaker. Professor Jones is a historian of modern biomedical and life sciences focusing on the historical ecology of disease, environment, and health. For more of Professor Jones’ research, see Due to unforeseen circumstances, Prof. Jones will not be able to attend the conference, but instead her paper will be discussed at 1 p.m. (for details see below).

 FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2022

 In-person: Harris Hall 108 (1881 Sheridan Rd., Evanston)

 If you cannot attend in person, please register for Zoom at:


9:00-9:30 a.m. Meet and Greet (with continental breakfast)

9:30-9:45 a.m. Welcome by CCHS Director Jonathon Glassman
and conference convener Guangshuo Yang

9:45- 11:00 a.m. Panel 1 - Epistemological Making of Pests

 Chair: Colin Bos (Northwestern University)

 Riaz HOWEY (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science) – Pest Control as Knowledge in New Persian Agricultural Manuals [ZOOM]

 Jack GREATREX (University of Hong Kong) – “Destroying Destroyers”: Pestology and the “Pest” in Early Twentieth-Century Britain and its Empire [ZOOM]  

 Commentator: Professor Paul Ramirez (Northwestern University)

 11:00-11:15 a.m. Coffee Break 

11:15 a.m.-12:30 a.m. Panel 2 – Artistic Conjuring of Pests

 Chair: E. Bennett Jones (Northwestern University)

 Luke-Elizabeth GARTLEY (The New School) – Never Seek Permission: Pigeons in Art and Urban Resistance. 

Anastasiia SIMFEROVSKA (Northwestern University) – A Beast on the Aryan Side: Jewish Artist Explores Nazi Visual Propaganda 

Commentator: Professor David Shyovitz (Northwestern University)

12:30-1:00 p.m. Lunch Break (with boxed lunches available)

1:00-2:30 p.m. Seminar/workshop on the paper

by Susan JONES (University of Minnesota), author of Death in a Small Package: A Short History of Anthrax (2010) and Valuing Animals: Veterinarians and Their Patients in Modern America (2003). 

Because of unforeseen circumstances, Professor Jones will be unable to attend the conference; instead we will discuss her pre-circulated paper, with Professor David SHYOVITZ (Northwestern) as moderator. To receive the paper, please email conference convener Guangshuo Yang at

2:30-2:45 p.m. Break

2:45-4:15 p.m. Panel 3 - Political Construction of Pests

 Chair: Rachel Wallner (Northwestern University)

 Kai WERNER (College of William and Mary) – A Trip to the North Kohala Pound: Sovereignty, Law, and Stray Animals in the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi 

Guangshuo YANG (Northwestern University) – Making Natural Enemies: Pestification of Bugs and the Construction of Nationalist Subjectivity in Modern China, 1895-1930

Peter BRADEN (University of Michigan) – Collateral Killing: Humans, Rodents, and Plague in China, 1931-1971 

 Commentator: Professor Peter Carroll (Northwestern University) 



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