Frederick L. Brown, author of The City is More Than Human, says your Capitol Hill houses and apartment buildings were once favorite grazing spots of dairy cows roaming the pasture in the late 19th century.
“It’s really important to think about the kinds of relationships people have had with animals where you live. History helps people recognize our choices create change,” Brown tells CHS, “I think that allows people to think more clearly about the kind of choices they make today about how to live with animals.”
Brown will appear Friday night “to speak on the animal history” in a discussion with the Capitol Hill Historical Society’s Tom Heuser at Elliott Bay Book Company starting at 7 PM.
According to Brown, understanding the history of animals in Capitol Hill provides insight to understanding how industrialization has historically impacted livestock farming in the greater Puget Sound region. Brown paints a picture of Capitol Hill’s transition from rural to urban, comparing of records of old animal ownership laws, institutions such as riding academies and stables, and cow herding laws with Capitol Hill and the rest of Seattle’s contemporary pet and leash laws.
“Thinking about the cows that used to be wandering the city can be used as a bridge to think about all the animals that are part of our lives today that we no longer see,” Brown said, “I think there was an immediacy to the moral relationship between humans and animals a century ago because of the immediate responsibility we had to them, and now that relationship is fractured because these animals are kept in far away factory farms.”
The decline in Capitol Hill’s livestock population was part of a larger cultural shift in how people prioritize treatment of livestock and land, Brown emphasized. As the Hill became increasingly urbanized, farm to table relationships were no longer personal. Brown aims to illustrate how this distance is detrimental.
“I hope people can use images and thoughts showing immediacy of the connection between humans and animals the past provides to remember the animals that are part of their lives in far away factory farms, who are impacted by our consumption and global warming,” Brown said.
Although he is critical of the choices individuals made throughout history depersonalizing the relationship between people and livestock, Brown believes companionship people share with their house pets is one potential avenue for restoring the responsibility humans once felt towards livestock.
“It’s a paradox in the petri dish. We’ve become more affectionate and caring towards animals near at hand, but in many ways life for the far away animals worsens,” Brown said, “Acknowledging the immediacy people felt towards livestock in the past is a good way to bridge distance and get in a better moral positions with all the animals in parts of our lives.”
Brown also sees the mechanics of gentrification and exclusion at work in the pastures and feed lots of Capitol Hill’s past.
“Certain animals were associated with a certain way of living for European Americans. Domestic animals really central to their ideas of agriculture and economy at lifestyle, symbolizing possession,” Brown said, “Efforts to create middle class white neighborhoods lead people to get rid of livestock animals, which became a way for the white middle class neighborhoods to define exclusion.”
In his talk Friday night, Brown will summarize the history of animals he discusses in The City is More Than Human, conveying the significant but often overlooked impact animals have on all facets of people’s lives. Brown feels acknowledging the importance of animals is imperative to a sustainable lifestyle and he hopes attendees and readers will feel empowered by understanding the history.
“I like being a storyteller, then leaving it to people to make choices. I’m going to focus on telling stories about the past, presenting what I can from historical documents, and laying out the implications for the present,” Brown said, “I’ll leave it to the audience and to get others to decide exactly how they want to use that information.”
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