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Themester explores definition and concept of humanity

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Dr. Russel Mittermeier, 2018 Indianaoplis Prize Winner, speaks Oct. 2 in the Neal-Marshall Black Cultural Center about the environment and saving the planet. Mittermeier is the chief conservation officer for the Global Wildlife Conservation. Kate Pasmore Buy Photos

Each year, the College and Arts and Sciences dedicates a theme to the fall themester. In 2017, it was "Diversity, Difference, Otherness." For 2018, it is "Animal/Human." 

Themester is a multidisciplinary look at one expansive topic, organized by COAS. This year's theme is geared toward undergraduate involvement for students to discuss the different ways animals and humans connect through lectures, classes and speakers.

Colin Allen, former IU professor and themester organizer, worked with the cognition of animals from a philosophical and cognitive science viewpoint, which he said spurred his desire to organize the themester. He said he wants students to rethink their concept of humans.

“We’re also trying to get students to think about how humans are, biologically speaking, animals too,” Allen said. 

Ivan Kreilkamp, associate professor and themester board member, helped evaluate the course and curriculum proposal. He said the main characteristic of the themester is analyzing different ways we talk about and interact with animals. 

One of the topics of the themester is animals as a food source and the ethics of eating meat, Kreilkamp said. 

Allen said his previous experience organizing themesters helped him realize broader concepts and ideas are more likely to be successful. 

“They work best when we have a broad range of themes to be picked up, everywhere from the arts and humanities to the sciences,” Allen said.

Some of the lectures and discussions include “Hybrid Vigor: The Agency of Dogs in Space,” “Animal in Perception Research” and “What Can Dogs Teach us about Human Learning?”

Sachiko Koyama, associate research professor and themester organizer, first started planning the "Animal/Human" themester in 2014. 

Before coming to IU, Koyama studied the history of animals in human culture at the University of Tokyo. She said she was interested in the relationship between humans and animals, and how that relationship differs based on culture. 

The different ways students discuss the connection between humans and animals crosses multiple disciplines. Students will discuss how animals appear in art and literature, animals as pets and the ethics of experimenting on animals for research.

“It’s not just about humans and animals on different sides of a divide, but having a lot of continuity and unity,” Allen said. 

The concept was originally proposed in 2015 but was replaced by "Diversity, Difference, Otherness." However, Koyama said she and the other organizers were invested in the topic and submitted it again in 2017, when it was accepted. 

Calls are made every year for themester suggestions and proposals, and students can help choose those topics, Kreilkamp said.

Another way students can get involved is through themester internships. There are design, photo and outreach internships available every year, according to the themester website. 

Koyama said she hopes there will be deeper discussions about the history of animals’ relationships. She said choosing one animal to study can bring a wealth of knowledge. It will change how we think about these animals. 

“Even one animal, if you really dig deeper and broader, it becomes really huge knowledge, and it will change the way of thinking about these animals,” she said.

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