Reflections on a decade of CfHAS

by Professor Claire Parkinson and Dr Richard Twine (CfHAS co-directors)

A sunny day in late 2013 saw two critical animal studies academics sitting in the Earth Café in Manchester, a vegan eatery that sadly never re-opened after the covid lockdowns. Back in 2013 it was a thriving business, and it was there that the idea for what would become the Centre for Human Animal Studies was scribbled down, quite literally, on the back of a napkin! At the time, we worked at different universities and, on that day in 2013, talked about the lack of a critical animal studies research centre in the UK. We sketched out an idea for the research centre we’d want to create – given the opportunity – and wondered what would have to happen for us to make that centre a reality.

Fast forward to May 2014 and the first institutional meeting of members of the Centre for Human Animal Studies at Edge Hill University. We had been fortunate to find support within the university for the creation of a centre for human animal studies, although it did raise some questions at the time from those unfamiliar with the disciplinary field. By October 2014 we were both working at Edge Hill University and opening the centre’s inaugural conference, titled Animals: ethics, sustainability, sentience. The conference attracted academics and members of animal advocacy organisations from across Europe, Australia, Canada, and U.S.A. Our pre-conference events included the launch of Kim Stallwood’s book, Growl (2014) and by all accounts the conference was a great success.

Now, in 2024, CfHAS is about to celebrate its tenth anniversary and we want to take this opportunity to look back at what the centre has achieved in the last decade. Since our inaugural conference we’ve hosted twenty-six research seminars, organised five conferences, three symposiums, fifteen workshops and a touring exhibition. We’ve been fortunate to have some of the leading figures in critical animal studies such as Dr Dinesh Wadiwel, Professor Núria Almiron, and Dr Helena Pedersen speak as part of our seminar series. We’ve worked with various advocacy organisations, charities, and ethical businesses as advisors as well as undertaking consultancy, contract research, and delivering knowledge exchange talks and webinars. In 2021, we hosted the European Association of Critical Animal Studies (EACAS) conference and in the process, raised over £1000 for animal sanctuaries.

As a result of SSHRC funding in 2015, we hosted our first visiting professor, Jody Berland, from York University, Toronto, in 2017. From 2018 to 2019, members of the centre worked on a major research project, ‘Pathways to Veganism’, funded by The Vegan Society and from 2019-2022 on two multispecies storytelling projects funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). In 2021, our research and activities resulted in a high-scoring impact case study titled ‘Rethinking relationships with animals as food, companions and entertainment’ for the Research Excellence Framework (REF2021).

We have been fortunate to have wonderful postdoctoral research assistants working with CfHAS on our funded research projects: Dr Naomi Griffin, Dr Lara Herring, Dr Hannah Parathian, and Dr David Gould. And, in 2019 we were delighted to welcome postdoctoral researcher, Dr Paula Arcari, to the centre as a Leverhulme Early Career Research Fellow to undertake her three-year research project ‘The visual consumption of animals: challenging persistent boundaries’. This was the first time our university had received such an award. There is no doubt that, above everything, we are most proud of our postgraduate researchers. They are the next generation of scholars in the field. In 2016, the first part-time PhD students joined the centre and the following year we welcomed our first visiting postgraduate researcher from Bazil. Since then, CfHAS has been home to ten PhD students and four visiting PhD researchers. Last year, CfHAS postgrads organised their own PGR symposium, ‘Kinship in Crisis’, and they are now planning their 2024 event.

We continue to be a small centre with a core group of nine full-time permanent academics based at Edge Hill University and around six to eight postgraduates. Back in 2014, we were the first centre of this kind in Europe. Ten years later, it’s a real pleasure to see many more similar centres establish and develop across Europe and beyond. We have forged links with many of these centres and their members have become our colleagues and friends.

It’s been a great first 10 years. We want to use this opportunity to thank everyone who has made CfHAS such a success!