Vegan Literary Studies: An American Textual History, 1776-1900

Ethical veganism has a long history dating back to classical times; this inheritance during the 18th-century Enlightenment was formative of US thinking about connections between human supremacy expressed as animal exploitation and a range of intersecting social justice movements, such as the abolition of slavery, women's rights, anti-vivisection, fashion reform, Temperance, pacifism, land reform, and so on. The project documents those texts that comprise the American tradition of ethical vegan thought.

 

This project is generously funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (project 100015_204481).

The increasingly dominant trend towards a vegan diet promotes the idea that veganism is a contemporary phenomenon. In fact, the philosophy of veganism can be traced from classical Greek and Rome to the European Enlightenment and to the emergence of the United States as a republic founded on the principles of justice and equality.

 

SUMMARY

This project constructs a literary history of veganism in the United States by identifying and classifying the texts that compose this tradition. The dietary refusal to consume animal products is the paradigm for the practice of ethical veganism, a philosophy of non-aggression that extends to the refusal to consume or participate in any form of animal exploitation. Theorists of ethical veganism often refer to the carnist use of animals for “food, fun, and fashion” and this project engages the widest definition of veganism in order to identify intersections among a diversity of social justice movements – all centered on veganism – that dominated the US throughout the nineteenth century: the abolition of slavery, women's rights, anti-vivisection, fashion reform, Temperance, pacifism, land reform, and so on. The “long nineteenth century,” from the establishment of the US republic in 1776 to the beginning of the twentieth century is a period formative of the contemporary vegan movement and this project seeks to highlight the often-forgotten fact that connections between the refusal of animal exploitation, on the one hand, and perceptions of environmental and social crisis on the other, are not new but have been expressed for more than two centuries. Using techniques of bibliographical research, historical contextualization, literary analysis, and digital humanities, the project will create an open-access database that will allow future researchers to access easily the historic corpus of US vegan texts. Additionally, the project website will make available to the general public an archive of annotated vegan texts that illustrate the continuing relevance this tradition of activist writing.

ABSTRACT

The proposed research project is situated in the nascent field of Vegan Literary Studies, which has emerged in the past two decades as a discipline of the Humanities at the intersection of Eco-criticism, Eco-feminism, Posthumanism, Critical Animal Studies, and Critical Race Studies. Across a variety of areas – history, society, cultural production, philosophy, ecology and environmentalism, food production, capitalism and labor, and religion – Vegan Studies engages the refusal of carnism as a paradigmatic rejection of human exploitation of and discrimination against all other beings. The object of study within the discipline of Vegan Literary Studies is the literary representation of the intersectional understanding of oppression that is definitive of ethical veganism: the web of abusive relations based on race, sex, social class, nationality, etc. motivated by speciesist discourses. The main objective of this research project is to advance this rapidly growing field of Vegan Studies, and specifically Vegan Literary Studies, by 1) documenting through bibliography the literary history of “vegan writing” in the US, from approximately 1776 to 1900; 2) generating a specific literary corpus of US “vegan texts” that were written during this period, samples of which will be published; and 3) establishing the formal literary criteria needed to define a category (or possibly a genre) of “Vegan Literature.” To produce this textual corpus, the project uses bibliographical and archival research, close narratological analyses of primary sources, and historical/biographical research to investigate authorial, social, and political relationships which provide insight into these texts and their production. The expected results of this research will be a collection of literary texts that establish an authoritative canon, a comprehensive historical context, and the criteria for future inclusions in the literary canon. This research will contribute to the growing field of Vegan Literary Studies the authoritative corpus for scientific study that is currently lacking, 1) by creating scholarly editions of historic vegan texts that will be published on the project website and 2) by generating an open-access database of metadata entries that document the history of vegan writing in the US. This database will also provide a valuable resource for future research. The project is based on the central hypothesis that, from its beginnings to the turn of the twentieth century, the US has been a unique location for the development of ethical veganism because of the conditions of its creation as a nation that is self-consciously modeled on Enlightenment principles of equality and universal rights. We see this most intensely in the context of literature, which is able to explore imaginatively and speculatively the tensions between national idealism and US reality, especially in view of nineteenth-century social justice movements of which women's rights and the abolition of slavery are the best known. This hypothesis is best tested by restricting the location of the project to the US and the historical period studied to the “long nineteenth century.”