Green Hour: “Becoming a Lion’s Historian: more-than-human solutions for living on planet earth.” (Prof. Sandra Swart)

Thursday

May 23
12 PM - 1 PM
2024

Sandra Swart is a professor and chair of the Department of History at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She received her PhD in modern history from Oxford University in 2001, while simultaneously obtaining an MS (with distinction) in environmental change and management, also at Oxford. Her research focus is the socio-environmental history of southern Africa, with a particular focus on the shifting relationship between humans and animals.  For this week’s Green Hour, she presents:

“Becoming a Lion’s Historian: more-than-human solutions for living on planet earth.”

‘If a lion could speak,’ the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, ‘we could not understand him.’ But I contend that lions do ‘speak’ – they communicate in voice and action – and we homo sapiens have long tried to understand them and sometimes succeeded. I would go even further and say that lions have tried to understand us too. In fact, as I will argue, the contact between humans and lions has sometimes shown evidence of mutual comprehension. Of course, it was a shifting and partial understanding and, as I will show, affected by the changes in human and lion lifeways – so perhaps we can call it co-created. I will show that, at the same time as Wittgenstein used the lion to illustrate the impossibility of such communication, a real lion-human community were speaking to each other and used this conversation to survive in a shared territory in the Kalahari desert. I reconstruct this peculiar pact as a way of thinking afresh about how we tell more-than-human histories. I will tell of two species, both apex predators, who learned to live together in a shared world. This is a new kind of history that challenges us to take animal cultures seriously.