Alan S. Ross

University of Vienna
Collegium de Lyon
10 months

Research interests: The social and cultural history of education; Schools in early modern Europe; schools and the Republic of Letters; The history of animals; natural history education; Material culture and museum pedagogy

Research Project

Human-simian contact in the Enlightenment – anatomy, exhibition and the public display of emotions

My second book (Beloved Foreigner: early modern Europeans and the simian) aims to be the first in-depth archival study to examine the dramatic changes in the cultures of contact between Europeans and simians that took place between the 15th and 19th centuries. In the three case studies I will work on during my fellowship at the Collegium de Lyon, I will analyze how during the 18th century, changing approaches to the public display of emotions, anatomy as a performative event and collections as ‘scientific’ and ‘educational’ institutions impacted the way in which Europeans interacted with simians:

(i) Loving the monkey: the public display of emotions towards simians in Frederick II’s Prussia. 
(ii) The spectacle of anatomy: Alexandre Brongniart and the dissection of simians at the Jardin des Plantes. 
(iii) Taxidermy, animal imagery and the culture of exhibition, 1660-1840.

My FIAS project leads on from the previous chapters of my book, which is structured to (i) follow the life-cycle of the animals from birth in their native territories to their deaths in Europe and (ii) describe chronologically the major developments of their appropriation in European culture between the first wave of colonial expansion and the dawn of Darwinism. By utilising original archival research from Germany, France and Switzerland, my book will examine these changes from the perspective of international trade and the expanding contacts with South East Asia, South America and Central Africa.

Though my research is about simians, the project has implications which will contribute directly to our understanding of early modern European identity. Thinking about real animals rather than just their image leads us without fail toward the burgeoning field of interdisciplinary animal studies which works on the assumption that animals already have an identity without humans, and that any contact between us and them redefines both of us. The arrival of the first apes in the mid-17th century irreversibly challenged European scholars’ sense of security that a firm boundary between man and beast existed. The contextualisation of this growing insecurity, which remained salient right up until and after Darwin’s theory of evolution, will be the main contribution of my project.


Alan S. Ross is a social and cultural historian of early modern Europe with particular interests in animals and education. Since 2018, he holds the Professorship for the History of Education at the University of Vienna.