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2013 Winter Issue 2 (January 25, 2013)

History Lecturer Discusses Animals in King Louis XIV’s France

January 25, 2013
By Noelani Kirschner

Ever wonder about the origins of animal testing? Anita Guerrini, a History Professor at Oregon State University, talked about the collection of animals, their testing, and the general science surrounding anatomy around the time of King Louis XIV during her talk on Wednesday night titled “Animals & Humans in Louis XIV’s Paris”.

Every year since 1979, Carleton’s History Department has hosted a lecturer as part of the Lefler Lecture Series, which was started by two Carleton parents thirty-four years ago. The Department asks a historian to give a talk on their latest research and also sit in on the History 298 Junior Seminar.

As a historian, Guerrini decided to tackle the topic of animal testing from a completely seperate standpoint than many animal rights activists who have approached the subject. She discussed the emerging interests in the 17th century of scientists who wanted to know more about human physiology, so they turned to animals as well as human corpses.

“In addition to cemetaries, surgeons and butchers haunted the execution grounds to acquire the deceased for disections,” she explained. “Victims of drowing had to be hung upside down by their ankles and the water had to be pressed out of their chests before dissection.”

Medical professionals and scientists next moved on to animals, both the mundane and the exotic.
For example, Guerrini described how the dissection of chameleons proved to be extremely useful to scientists; they discovered that the creatures had digestive systems, which was revolutionary considering that they previously thought chameleons ate air.

Also, monkeys were found to have larnexyes (sp) very similar to humans and it perplexed the scientists as to why they couldn’t speak.

Overall, Guerrini offered an insightful and interesting perspective on a time that is often overlooked for scientific exploration in light of King Louis XIV’s material extravegance. And as she pointed out, the continuing exploration of science helped to build upon later scholarship and helped bring us to where we are today.

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