Finding and Telling Cow Stories in the Archives

Authors: Claudia Hirtenfelder*, Queen's University, Carolyn Prouse*, Queen's University
Topics: Animal Geographies, Economic Geography, Gender
Keywords: multispecies entanglement, infant formula, milk, transnational markets, diary industry
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


While there is some reflection as to cows’ significance in urban spaces where their presence established large industries and urban infrastructure (such as New York City and Chicago) there is less known about the role cows played in the ordinary, everyday life of other urban centres. Further, while these accounts may mark the noteworthiness of cows to industry, they often neglect to interpret cows as lively beings that had/have urban life-worlds of their own (as opposed to merely commodities bought and sold), who might have experienced their urban un/belonging in distinctive ways. This is partly explained by the anthropocentric tendency of privileging humans in historical analyses and partly by how cows’ presence was taken for granted and therefore often not recorded in necessarily meaningful ways.

To understand the un/belonging of cows in a small city (Kingston, Ontario), I need to rely on how cows’ were recorded not as beings, but as property and commodities – the very framing I am trying to resist: I look at how cows were recorded as property in tax documents and as beef and dairy commodities in markets, I read between the lines, photographs, newspaper articles, correspondence, and city council proceedings to get a glimmer of where cows were and what they were doing when. In this paper, I will explore how opening up our historical and geographical imagination to more than human experiences actively work to resist anthropocentric narratives and imaginings – allowing for more inclusive, and indeed more just, interpretations of our past

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